Lake Worth Playhouse presents: Missy McArdle as Mama Rose

“Gypsy” is playing at the Lake Worth Playhouse from October 3-19,2003.

The Lake Worth Playhouse Community Theater is located at 713 Lake Avenue, Lake Worth, 33460. Tickets are: $18, $21 and $25.

Story by Arthur Laurents. Musical score by Stephen Sondheim and Jule Styne.

Starring: Missy McArdle (as Mama Rose Havoc), Julie Buchanan (as Louise), Glen Rovenelli, Jennifer Wysong, Shane Blanford, Freda Kratka, and Steve Gould.

“Gypsy” is the tale of driven and determined stage mother Mama Rose. Rose concentrates on her talented younger daughter, June, leaving older, less talented Louise in the cold. When June becomes fed up with being cute she runs away, and Rose turns to Louise instead. Louise eventually becomes “Gypsy”, and Rose is left by herself. With her children’s aspirations realized, her own show-business desires remain out of reach.

Madame Missy McArdle is a 7-time Carbonell Theatre Award nominee who has the privilege of re-inventing Rose for the Lake Worth Playhouse stage. She was gracious enough to take the time to talk to the UP about her insights of playing such a legendary and one-of-a-kind character.

UP: How does it feel to have been cast as one of the most legendary characterizations of the musical theater canon?

MM: It feels fabulous! This role is a very good one for me on many levels. First, it “sits” nicely in my voice, meaning it lies comfortably in my vocal range, which is particularly important with a role of this size. That doesn’t mean I won’t have to pace myself, but I also won’t exhaust myself trying to sing in a range outside of my comfort zone. Secondly, the musical is so well written that it allows the performer to really stretch as an actor as well as a singer. It is a rare privilege to play a character with such depth of personality and it’s an incredible ride for the actor that’s not afraid to go for the gusto!

UP: Mama Rose Havoc has always been portrayed as either too “butch” (Ethel Merman) “elegant” (Angela Lansbury) “brassy” (Rosalind Russell and Bette Midler) or self-destructive and psychotic (Tyne Daly and Bernadette Peters). But she always has been played as a hardworking Mom with the force of a hurricane and the guts to survive anything. What elements of those characterizations do you hope to bring to your portrayal?

MM:I think that the “trick” here is not to play Rose as she is so obviously written. There’s no question, she’s a demanding woman, driven by ambition. We see that very clearly in the dialogue and knowing that, it would be easy to draw her as a one-dimensional character . . . the real skill lies in being to find the deeper, hidden segments of Rose’s personality, her vulnerability, and make her a sympathetic character in spite of her obvious flaws and drawbacks. Rose is aptly named in that respect. Like the rose itself, one could very easily take her based on the personality she projects outwardly. The challenge is exploring the “layers” of her colorful character. From an actor’s standpoint, one must play close attention to the things she says, and taking them to heart and personalizing them.

UP: Which of all the songs shows off Rose’s true colors?

MM: I don’t think there is one song that sums her up completely. Her songs with Herbie, her lover (“Small World” and “You’ll Never Get Away From Me”) show moments of great tenderness and love as does “Together”, which is sung with Herbie and Louise; “Mr. Goldstone” is positively joyous. On the other hand, “Rose’s Turn” shows the stark, painful reality of her failed life. It is a tremendous compliment to the authors that they have created such a multi-faceted character of great “highs” and cataclysmic “lows” all in the space of two hours.

UP: How does it feel to be undertaking some of the most difficult songs to sing in musical theater?

MM: Don’t get me wrong, some of these songs are very challenging musically, particularly the soliloquy songs (“Some People” and “Rose’s Turn”). But I’ve sung harder, more difficult songs in my career. As a singer, the real success of “selling” a song comes when you’ve made it “yours.”

UP: How would you want your portrayal of Mama Rose Havoc to be remembered? What was your driving motivation to audition for this plum role?

MM:I have finally come of an age where these really choice roles are within my grasp. When I learned that the Lake Worth Playhouse was going to stage “Gypsy,” I knew that because of my age and theatrical experience (remember I had a two-decade career in the professional theatre) I had the training and stamina needed to successfully bring Rose to life. The beauty part of that is, after all the years I spent playing walk-ons and ingí©nues, meaty roles are no longer out of my reach. There are lots of parts in the musical theatre genre like this one, and I look forward to exploring them all before I drop dead, that is. Hey, there has to be some benefit to turning 50, right?

UP: Final question: Do you feel Rose would or would not have made it as a star?

MM: I believe Rose turned to show business to escape the bleak reality of her own, sad existence. That ambition fueled her whole life and gave her vitality in spite of the overwhelming obstacles she faced. Short of that, one could only speculate about the “what ifs” that surround her. Rose Havoc did not lead a happy life.

McArdle brings a heartbreakingly stark and human tenderness to her character that separates her from other Roses. Every time I listen to her rendition of “Rose’s Turn”, I know that she knows, deep down Rose could have, and would have been a big, big star.