—Originally published January 25, 2016—
Meet the Hanslick Girls: Gwen, Eleanor and Dania. Created by writer Zach Barr, they are a trio of Northwestern students who always go to see plays together. They may not have the same opinions, but their conversations tend to make for an entertaining read. Recently, the Girls saw “Gypsy,” the 74th Annual Dolphin Show, produced by Alex Wolfe and Brandon Nadig and directed by Aaron Simon Gross. Let’s hear what they had to say on their way back from the theater…
As Eleanor walked out of the theatre, she was still humming some of the music from “Gypsy” under her breath.
“Have a Goldstone…Mr. Egg Roll….”
Dania stretched and zipped up her coat, bracing herself against the cold outside.
“Let’s go home.”
The girls began walking home. Gwen held her program open, looking through the hundred or so names that lined the inside pages.
“So, remind me,” said Dania. “This does or doesn’t have department funding?”
“Doesn’t,” Gwen clarified. “The Dolphin Show is the largest student produced musical in America. It’s all student producers, student directors, student designers…”
“Oh,” Dania said.
“But it’s, like, established and stuff. They’ve been doing it forever.”
“Well, for seventy-four years,” Eleanor pointed out.
“Sure.” Gwen put away her program. “You know, this is the fourth time they’ve done ‘Gypsy’ as the Dolphin Show.”
“Yeah,” responded Eleanor. “There was a display in the lobby. They did it in 2004, in 1995, and…some time in the 70s.”
“It’s popular, it’s bankable, it’s a big American musical.”
Dania laughed, slightly. “American is right.”
“Yeah, every production I’ve seen of it,” Eleanor continued. “That big American flag drop comes in for the end of the vaudeville act and it’s just…aggressively American. Love it.”
“There could have been more sparklers,” Gwen responded.
“Well, yeah,” Eleanor said. “But, like, the show is supposed to look like it’s low-budget. Like Mama Rose threw it together herself.”
Dania looked up. “Wait, do you mean the show-within-the-show, or the show itself?”
Gwen turned to Dania. “Why? Did you think the rest of the show looked low-budget?”
“No, no, no.” Dania adjusted her coat again. “It was all pretty big. But I don’t know ‘Gypsy’ so I wasn’t sure if…”
“You’ve never seen ‘Gypsy?’” Eleanor asked in disbelief.
“No, not really.”
“Not even the Natalie Wood movie?” Gwen asked.
“No!” Dania responded. “I mean, I knew that it existed. But I had no idea what it was about.”
“It’s about strippers.”
“I…well, yeah, now I know it’s about strippers. Thanks, Eleanor.”
“It’s not really about strippers,” Gwen said. “It’s more about Mama Rose than anything else. It’s about stage mothers and the need for fame and recognition and so on.”
“True,” Eleanor agreed. “But ‘it’s about strippers’ is a more blunt way of saying, like, content.”
Dania nodded. “But yeah, I’ve never seen it before.”
“Well, what did you think?”
A pause cut through the conversation. Before Dania could answer, Gwen spoke.
“It’s not a show for everyone.”
“No, I enjoyed it fine. I can’t tell if it was the production or the script, but…”
“The production,” said Eleanor, but at the same time Gwen answered “the script.”
They looked at each other.
Eleanor raised an eyebrow. “You don’t like the script? You don’t like the script, Gwen?”
Gwen put the program in her pocket. “I don’t think it’s bad, but…it’s just not one of my favorites.”
“It seemed to be a lot of people in the lobby’s favorites,” Dania responded, thinking back to the mob of well-dressed bodies that filled the lobby as the tried to exit.
“Well, it’s opening night, so those are all the people who worked on it,” Eleanor explained. “They’re going to like it no matter what.”
“Ah. I see.”
“But, wait.” Eleanor looked at Dania again. “You didn’t like it?”
“I…” Dania’s voice trailed off. She thought through the show again. Plenty of positive elements stuck out in her mind: The energetic performances, the flashy costumes, the huge set pieces…and the cow…
“The scenes in the story were fine,” she responded, carefully. “But all the scenes with the newsboys and the farmers…”
“Okay, well…” Eleanor said, growing defensive.
“I just found them boring and long.”
“Well, they’re supposed to be,” Eleanor said. “The joke is that all the ‘Baby June and her Whatevers’ shows are tired and old and gaudy. That’s why the sets for them didn’t look at polished as the rest of the brickwork behind them.”
“Which was actually a really nice touch,” Gwen added, “considering how nice the base set looked.”
“That’s Joe Entenman for you,” Eleanor said. “Same guy who did ‘Titanic’ last year.”
“But even then,” Dania continued. “Just because it’s intentionally bad doesn’t mean that I didn’t get bored by it.”
“I get that,” Gwen said. “This is why the show isn’t one my my personal favorites.”
“What do you mean?” asked Eleanor.
“It’s kind of inconsistent. Like, you have these amazing moments like ‘Rose’s Turn’ at the end…”
“Oh, I though that part was great,” Dania clarified.
“Yes, and these beautiful songs like ‘You’ll Never Get Away From Me’…”
“…which now that I think about it, I had a hard time hearing.”
Dania nodded. “Yeah, that lead dude had a really soft voice.”
Gwen checked the program. “Garrett Hanson.”
“I mean, Herbie’s supposed to be a soft-spoken kind of character,” Eleanor explained. “He’s the opposite of Rose.”
“I think it was just mic issues. Not a dealbreaker or anything. But I like that song, so it was a shame it was kind of quiet.”
“Or the one at the beginning to her grandfather,” Dania added. “About stealing the gold thing on the wall.”
“Yeah, that one.”
“Anyway,” said Gwen, getting back on track. “Some of the songs are really good. And the characters are really interesting too. But then you have…”
She imitated the choreography as she walked, waving her arms around.
“Extra! Extra! Hey look at the HEADline historical NEWS is being made!”
Eleanor hit her leg three times, in time to the music. Gwen did the same, but kept time by hitting her head with the rolled-up program.
Eleanor laughed. “How can you hate vaudeville?”
Gwen rolled her eyes. “I don’t know. Because they’re all the same songs?”
“But that’s the point!”
“But it’s not funny!”
“But it’s not supposed to be!”
“Plus,” continued Dania, “why was Baby Louise dancing with, like, six grown men?”
“Okay, that’s the production,” Eleanor said. “In the show, it’s supposed to be a group of kids about their age, like ten or eleven. And then when that strobe light goes off…”
“The weird transition scene?” asked Gwen.
“Yeah, when the strobe is going they all change into adults.”
“Ohhhhhh.” Dania sighed. “That makes way more sense.”
“Yeah, I guess that would be confusing if you hadn’t seen the show before.”
“It kinda was.” Dania took her program back out again, looking through the song list.
“They had an interesting idea going where the kids in the beginning were just the adult ensemble,” Gwen responded. “And I didn’t mind that. It was just the combination of “adult kids” with “kid kids” that made it a little weird to watch.”
“But, I don’t expect they’d find ten kids to be in the show, so I wouldn’t criticize that.”
Dania looked up from the program. “Oh, I hated the Egg Roll song.”
Eleanor’s jaw dropped. “What? ‘Mr. Goldstone?’ I love that song!”
“I thought it was staged well, with the music spiraling out of control of comprehensibility at the end,” Gwen added. “As if Rose is just barrelling through and we smash cut to Louise…”
“Yeah, but…” Dania paused to word her statement right. “It’s a song all about rice and soy sauce and chopsticks and chinese food…”
“And they cast the only asian actor in the whole show as that role.”
Eleanor winced. “Oh yeah, I did notice that.”
“Wasn’t there another asian actor in the newsboys?” Gwen checked her program.
“Maybe,” Dania added. “But even so.”
“Yeah…” Eleanor’s voice trailed off. She had enjoyed the show, but knew that there had to be more in it that Dania liked.
“What about the choreography?” Eleanor said aloud.
“I thought it was pretty nice,” Dania said. “It’s not one of those shows with huge group dance numbers or anything. But there are nice parts of it.”
Gwen nodded. “It’s probably the most restrained work from Rosie Jo Neddy I’ve seen. It’s simple and really helps to tell the story. I liked it.”
“Oh, and obviously,” Eleanor continued. “‘Rose’s Turn’ and the giant illuminated sign.”
“THAT was awesome,” Dania agreed. “I didn’t see it coming, but it looked awesome.”
Gwen shrugged. “Could have been bigger…”
“I’m kidding, I’m kidding,” she laughed. “I thought it was a good surprise reveal, like it had been there the whole time and everything.”
“Yeah, it’s like they’re in this big Broadway musical, and they wait until the very end to give you the really impressive moment,” Dania said.
“And we can all agree that Alex Getlin killed it?” Eleanor asked.
“Oh, completely,” Gwen responded.
“That’s Mama Rose, right?” Dania asked. “Oh my God, she was fantastic. It’s like, the two moments I liked most in the entire show were the end of each act. Because she gets to sing and vent and it’s more interesting than vaudeville…”
“I will say,” Gwen said. “Not my favorite musical, but that one moment where Rose says, ‘I’m her mother and I made her! And I can make you now!’”
All three girls gasped in unison.
“That part is badass.”
“Yeah, and they nailed it,” Eleanor said. “She’s a great actress. It’s like the role was made for her.”
“She’s really good friends with Aaron, the director,” Gwen said. “They must have had a fantastic relationship in the rehearsal room.”
“She was really good,” Dania said. “The acting generally wasn’t bad. It’s probably just the show getting to me.”
“I don’t know, I loved it,” Eleanor said. “As long as you have a solid Mama Rose anchoring the show, I’m always a fan of ‘Gypsy.’”
“I mean, it’s sort of like ‘Baby June and her Newsboys,’ overall,” Gwen pointed out. “As much as you may like or dislike the actual content, there’s something to be admired for all the effort they’re putting into making the performance memorable.”
Dania nodded. After a pause, she asked.
“What are they going to do next year?”
“We won’t know until June,” Gwen responded. “But next year is going to be the 75th Anniversary year. So they’ll definitely be doing something huge.”
“Oh, man, they should have saved this for next year, then!” Eleanor said, extending her arms out in front of her. “Can you imagine? ‘There aren’t letters big enough! There aren’t lights bright enough!’”
Dania pushed her arms back down. “Calm down, Mama Rose.”