When Mykenna Rymutt entered the stage as June Havoc, dressed in red polka dots and with a cow in tow, an audience of fellow cast and crew members couldn’t help but smile.
It was only a rehearsal, so they’d seen it before, but her energy was infectious.
Similarly, when Justine Blackman entered in a rose-patterened dress and overcoat and with a tiny dog under her arm, the unrelenting energy in the sweeping gestures of Mama Rose drew every eye.
Directions were shouted, lights were adjusted, curtains were pulled and then pulled some more. Set pieces were wheeled into place, and cast members huddled just offstage waiting for their queues, some in costume with props and others in shorts and T-shirts.
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Laughter erupted in the theater when the cow – a costumed actress – needed help yanking her head off so she could take her place as another character in the next scene.
This was “Gypsy,” the musical fable brought to life on stage by the Benson Little Theatre.
The musical follows Gypsy, or Louise, and her sister June as they sing and hoof their way to the top under the wings of the greatest stage mother of them all, Mama Rose. The 1959 “musical fable” is based on the memoirs of Gypsy Rose Lee, recounting her struggles in Vaudeville during the 1920s and her rise to fame in burlesque during the 1930s.
Director D.H. Johnson said “Gypsy” is a departure from performances the theater has produced in the past. It’s still funny and full of child actors, but it’s also more dramatic, more serious.
And while the play contains some mature language and adult themes, Johnson is hoping patrons will enjoy the popular musical. The cast and crew have worked on the production since January.
“I just hope we can convince people that the community can accept a show with more mature themes and language,” Johnson said. “Nothing we’ve had has covered anything quite this mature.”
But Johnson said he also tamed the script quite a bit from its original content.
A week before the show was to open, Johnson watched his cast carefully through the rehearsal of several scenes and songs, calling out direction when necessary. But even he cracked a grin or two at the characters his actors brought back to life nearly 100 years after their supposed escapades.
The rehearsal included a few of the musical numbers in the show, with recorded music playing over speakers in the theater. Johnson said “Gypsy” will have an orchestra for the shows this weekend.
“This cast is going to earn it,” Johnson said. “They’re incredibly talented.”
The cast of 45 has members from Benson, Four Oaks, Angier, Dunn, Fayetteville, Garner and Raleigh. They range in age from 6 years old to 80, Johnson said. Everyone who auditions for Benson Little Theatre shows usually gets cast, Johnson said, but the numbers fall slightly when people realize how much work goes into the production. The cast also includes Ava Grace Jernigan as a young June and Taylor Kraft as Louise.
Shows like this usually cost about $7,000 to $10,000 to pull together, Johnson said. That budget comes mostly from grants, donations and ticket sales.
“A bucket of paint doesn’t go as far as you’d think anymore,” Johnson said.
Abbie Bennett: 919-553-7234, Ext. 101; @AbbieRBennett
Want to go?
What: “Gypsy,” a musical.
When: 7:30 p.m. March 18-19 and 3 p.m. March 20.
Where: W.J. Barefoot Auditorium, 303 E. Church St., Benson.
Tickets: $12 at the door or by calling 919-894-3825.
More information: www.thebensonarts.com.