Camelot Theatre confronts ambition, independence and desperation with "Gypsy," its production of the 1959 Tony Award-winning musical based on the memoirs of burlesque icon Gypsy Rose Lee. Beginning in the dying American vaudeville scene of the '20s, "Gypsy" explores parental love and sibling rivalry through the often misunderstood role of the stage mother.

The play follows Rose Hovick (Livia Genise) as she pursues the prospect of stardom through her young daughters, June and Louise. June, who will later become the influential actress June Havoc, receives the lion's share of her mother's attention. Her older sister, Louise, later Gypsy Rose Lee, languishes in the background, uncomfortable with performing and struggling with feelings of inadequacy. Rebecca Campbell directs.

Previews are set for Wednesday and Thursday, March 21-22. Tickets to the March 21 preview cost $25, and proceeds will benefit Friends of the Jackson County Animal Shelter. Tickets to the March 22 preview cost $12. The show opens Friday, March 23, and runs through April 22. Tickets cost $25, $23 for seniors and students. Curtain is at 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays. A pay-what-you-can performance will be offered at 8 p.m. Wednesday, March 28.

The same sense of inadequacy drives Rose to press her daughters, along with the other children in her company, deeper into the spotlight and further from a conventional childhood.

"I've been a stage mother for most of my life," says Genise, Camelot's artistic director. "Rose shows how that role can succeed and how it can fail."

Vital in Rose's journey is Herbie (Don Matthews), a former vaudeville agent who becomes the girls' manager and takes on a fatherly role. Herbie's passion for Rose, whom he describes as "a pioneer woman without a frontier," motivates him to stay with the act as vaudeville fades and Rose evades his suggestions of marriage.

"Herbie holds his frustrations in," Campbell says. "Rose thrives on that."

As June and Louise grow up, Rose continues to promote the girls as child actors and fights to keep them close to her. But Rose's obsessive tendencies and the pressure to succeed place a toxic strain on their struggling relationship.

The 21 scenes and 15 locations in "Gypsy" present a distinct challenge in Camelot's small auditorium. Much of the scenery is projected, and simple scenic elements facilitate smooth transitions with limited resources. The stage retains a broad, open space for dance.

"Gypsy" includes many songs that since have become classics, including "Let Me Entertain You," "You'll Never Get Away From Me," "Everything's Coming Up Roses" and "Together Wherever We Go." Live musicians complement the cast vocals, directed by Mark Reppert.

"We never use recorded music," Genise says. "The performance needs to be in the present as much as possible."

An ensemble of 20 brings "Gypsy" to the stage, but despite the cast size, the show contains no ensemble numbers. Instead, each song focuses on plot and character development and moves the drama.

"Compared with other musical comedies of the era, it's very intimate," Campbell says. "You get a very in-depth look at the principal characters."

Tickets are available at the Talent box office and www.camelottheatre.org or by calling 541-535-5250.

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