Rachael Jones as Gypsy Rose Lee
Every summer, Okaloosa-Walton College pulls out all the stops to produce a large scale musical on the mainstage of the Mattie Kelly Fine and Performing Arts Center in Niceville - shows hailed by patrons as being every bit as professional as the national touring Broadway productions which appear at the arts complex each fall. This summer is no different when Gypsy - a light-hearted musical drama based on the memoirs of 1930's burlesque entertainer, Gypsy Rose Lee - hits the OWC stage July 9, 10, 11 and 12 at 7:30 p.m. each night. Tickets are on sale now at the box office for $20 each for adults and $15 each for youth age 18 and younger. Purchase by phone at (850) 729-6000, online at www.owc.edu/arts or at-the-door, subject to availability .
The show boasts more than 100 onstage actors and back stage crew, including stage veteran Bruce Culpepper of DeFuniak Springs in the lead role of Herbie, the good-hearted boyfriend of Mama Rose, played by Darla Briganti of Holt, another area theater professional. Mama Rose is a conniving stage mother who pushes her two daughters into show business careers -- determined to break into the big time in the 1920's and 1930's when vaudeville was dying and burlesque was born.
In song and dance Gypsy tells the tale of Mama Rose as she, her daughters, and Herbie travel the USA. When June the more talented younger daughter, portrayed by Savannah Simerly of Niceville, runs off to marry a dancer, Mama Rose focuses all her attention on the shy older sister, Louise, portrayed by Rachael Jones of Freeport, slowly watching her transform into the famous Burlesque entertainer, Gypsy Rose Lee.
"Darla's Mama Rose is every bit as dynamic as the actress in the Broadway show which just won 3 Tony Awards in New York," said Cliff Herron, director of the college's production. Briganti, head of the Oz Theater in Fort Walton, has more than 20 years of professional acting experience, but occasionally hand picks a role she feels develops her talent as an actress. Last summer she played humorous Evangeline in the OWC production of Anything Goes. "I always wanted to be Mama Rose," she quipped with a wry smile.
According Herron, Rachael Jones of Freeport "sparkles" on stage as the one and only Gypsy Rose Lee. Jones is a recent OWC graduate who held a fine arts scholarship at the college and was a member of the college's prestigious Show Choir and Madrigal singers. Jones is currently pursuing a bachelor's degree in Music Theater at FSU. Her numerous previous acting roles include the lead as Lucy in the StageCrafter's production of Jekyll & Hyde, Cat in the Hat in Seussical at the Chautauqua Children's Theater, and appearing on the OWC stage with Culpepper and Briganti in last summer's OWC musical Anything Goes.
Culpepper, who has appeared in a variety of TV and film productions on HGTV, A&E and The Learning Channel, as well as local theater productions at the Seaside Repertory Theater, is appearing for his seventh role on the OWC stage as Herbie. Last summer, he held the lead role of Elisha Whitney in OWC's musical comedy, Anything Goes. Simerly noted that she, "loves every second of playing the dainty June," because the character is "very diverse -- a talented young girl, whose heart is in two different places." A seasoned dancer, Simerly appeared in last summer's OWC musical comedy, Anything Goes. She is currently a fine and performing arts scholarship student at OWC and a member of the college's Show Choir and Madrigal Singers.
Playing the lead male role of Tulsa, the young dancer June (Simerly) runs off with, is former Niceville resident Tim Norton who is now a junior at FSU's prestigious Music Theatre program. Last summer, Norton appeared on the OWC stage as the romantic male lead, Billy Crocker, in Anything Goes and has previously appeared in other noteworthy OWC performances such as the Pharaoh in Aida.
Audiences will also recognize another OWC stage veteran, Christa Whittaker, theater instructor at Fort Walton Beach High School, who plays one of the seasoned 'strippers' who have a hilarious routine in the second act. In supporting roles in the musical are numerous other OWC and community actors as well as 15 area youth ranging in age from 8 to 15 who portray various children in the production. In the college's production of Gypsy, as Louise "matures as a stripper and actress" the audience will notice a change in costume design said Herron. With the development of the character, costumes become more and more elaborate as they help recreate the feel of 1920s and '30s vaudeville and burlesque. Herron said each aspect of the production, from set design and lighting to make-up and costume, receives utmost attention to detail from OWC's seasoned crew. One custom-designed costume, for Nalia Bauer of Crestview who plays a burlesque dancer, lights up in amazing ways. Bob Whittaker, technical director for Gypsy, noted that approximately "70-75 man hours, with soldering" went into designing the elaborate costume.
The OWC production of Gypsy is based on the Broadway revival of Arthur Laurent's original book and features Jules Styne music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Included in the production are songs such as "Let Me Entertain You", "Some People", "You'll Never Get Away From Me", "If Momma Was Married", "All I Need Is The Girl", "Everything's Coming Up Roses", "You Gotta Get a Gimmick", and "Together Wherever We Go".
The OWC stage will come to life for this delightful show, filled with sassy songs and a zany dance number or two, so don't miss Gypsy! Advance tickets for reserved seating are now on sale for any of the four nights of the musical, July 9, 10, 11 and 12. The show begins at 7:30 pm on the main stage of the OWC Mattie Kelly Fine and Performing Arts Center in Niceville. At-the-door tickets will be available each night, subject to availability, starting at 6:00 p.m. each evening. Purchase tickets by calling the OWC box office at (850) 729-6000 or toll free at 1-888-838-2787 or purchase tickets online at www.owc.edu/arts. Seats are $20 each for adults and $15 each for youth age 18 and younger.