by MARY STOVER & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & L & lt;/span & ike any great Broadway show, Gypsy is a story that can strike at the hearts, or nerves, of everyone in attendance. The heart of the show is Mama Rose, a crazy, helicopter parent and stage mother who hovers over her children, living her own stage dreams vicariously through her unassuming daughters. The show's first song, "Let Me Entertain You," sets the theme for the entire evening: a life in show biz (and mediocre show biz at that). Mama and her girls will entertain you, all right. Or at least they'll smile.

Mama Rose, loveable and upbeat, is still somehow insane and obsessive. She falls in love with Herbie, who wants to care for her. But she can't stand that he's often in the right. She pushes her children into show business -- and when they want out, she's left standing alone. Throughout the show, Mama is pushing June into stardom, and when all else fails, she forces her enthusiasm and stage fervor onto Louise, the ugly duckling. In the Act One curtain song, "Everything's Coming Up Roses," Mama sings "Well, someone tell me -- when is it my turn? Don't I get a dream for myself? / Starting now, it's gonna be my turn, / Gangway world, get off of my runway!" She was only pretending to seek fame for her girls; what she really desired was to thrust herself into the limelight.

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & G & lt;/span & ypsy is the story of Gypsy Rose Lee, born Rose Louise Hovick in 1914. As a youngster, she toured the country in a vaudeville act with her older sister June. When June eloped and ran off to perform in a solo act, 15-year-old Rose developed the Gypsy Rose Lee character after a mistaken booking incident and a quick session backstage with a few eccentric strippers. Eventually, she became the world's most famous burlesque queen, and Gypsy: A Memoir was adapted for a stage version featuring Ethel Merman and then turned into a film starring Rosalind Russell and Natalie Wood.

From the inside out, this show is a delight for actors as well as the audience. About his experience as Herbie, Nicholas Hamel says, "As an actor, it's been difficult to find a way to approach this character. He's right all the time, he's an antagonist -- but he's correct. You feel sympathetic for him, and care about him and his feelings. But telling the leading lady she's wrong ... it's difficult!" Hamel says he's especially proud of Kathy Hellenda in the role of Mama Rose: "She's wonderful -- with years and years of experience, she's a real powerhouse."

Aside from the lead characters of Gypsy and Mama Rose, the cast is filled with memorable characters like Tessie Tura, the character who names Gypsy Rose Lee and inevitably teaches her how to strip. In the role of Tessie, Lori Ann Freda is thrilled to be touring the nation with such a fine troupe of actors. "Particularly with Gypsy, there's something for everyone in the audience," she says. "The mothers will love the mother-daughter storyline and the husbands will like the legs!" And Freda's character -- who bends over for the audience and blows a trumpet -- will especially stick in your mind. "You Gotta Have a Gimmick" is one of the highlights of the show.

Hamel enjoys making subtle changes from night to night in his portrayal of Herbie. After 100 performances, he says, "It gives us opportunities to pay attention to every detail of body language and nuances." Some nights, he says, he'll decide to change a facial expression, the tone of his voice, or a particular body movement -- and the audience's reaction will change every time.

For a dynamic night at the theater, you really can't do any better than Gypsy. In a show written early in Stephen Sondheim's career, the lyrics are more than just melodic words sung by a cast of characters. In "Rose's Turn," we delve into the character of Mama Rose. We get to watch as Sondheim plays with her admirable tenacity and her scary insanity: "What did it get me? Scrapbooks full of me in the background. / Give 'em love and what does it get ya?" Her motherly love turns into mouthful of regrets for not taking care of herself. Like Shakespeare before him, Sondheim creates real human moments in a world of stage and entertainment.

One of Broadway's finest musicals of all time, Gypsy has all of the elements -- characters, lyrics, music and plot -- for an amazing show. nGypsy strips down to essentials at the INB Center on Thursday, Feb. 21, at 7:30 pm; on Friday, Feb. 22, at 8 pm; on Saturday, Feb. 23, at 2 pm and 8 pm; and on Sunday, Feb. 24, at 1 pm and 6:30 pm. Tickets: $30-$53. Visit or call 325-SEAT.

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