Kelsey is a Chicago based producer, actor, writer, critic, and mixologist. An alum of Black Box Acting’s ACADEMY Program, Kelsey curates “The Newness,” a monthly salon of new work. They also work closely with Trans Voices Cabaret Chicago as well as Chicago Theatre Access Auditions. Follow them on Insta! @playsandpours, @kelseylooks
Pictured (L to R): Daryn Whitney Harrell, Aalon Smith, and E. Faye Butler. Photo by Michael Courier.
By Kelsey McGrath
It’s Rose’s World and We’re Just Living In It
Rather, E. Faye Butler’s world and we should all be HONORED to live here. Porchlight’s GYPSY kicks off their 24th season and it’s a masterpiece. With Butler as Mama Rose, everything comes up Roses, whether we’re ready or not.
Something I love about Chicago musical theatre is its ability to stay grounded in the story while having something meaningful to say, as if gesturing wildly with jazz hands about the world around us. The intentional choice to cast Mama Rose, Louise, and June as women of color was the most eye-opening, refreshing musical theatre experience I’ve ever had.It is amazing to see women of color embody their roles as disheveled and messy and human. Rose fights tooth and nail for a life she wants for her and her daughters. She leans into a balance between madness and unwavering faith. Butler is heartbreaking and passionate and genuine and and and she is everything.
At the top of the show, a little black girl, Louise, shares the stage with the band. She is curious and filled with joy as she goes up to each and excitedly observes their world. This energy permeates the production as we witness scrappy kids being scrappy kids being playful and joyful and innocent. Not technical, but being kids. This gave me so much hope. Productions like this make me burst with pride for the Chicago theatre community. Having women of color play roles that humanize them without being about their skin color. We need more of THIS because #representationMATTERS.
One of the most striking moments is when Herbie asks, “Rose, why do you make Louise wear that wig in the act?” He holds out a worn, blonde wig of curls. Rose responds along the lines of “It’s what she needs to be a star” in such a way that a weight drops, an exhale, a moment of acknowledgment. Throughout the show, Louise and June don natural hair except when they’re performing, the blonde wigs come on. This choice is finally acknowledged in the space and Butler’s answer encompasses the double standards, injustices, and expectations for people of color (hair of color) in show business.
This was what made me erupt in applause.
I also have to acknowledge the incredible scenic design by Jeffrey D. Kmiec, which allows for seamless proscenium choreography and shifts between on and off stage. Robert Hornbostel’s complex and fulfilling sound design grounds us in reality and Bill Morey’s playful costume looks were the spectacle of “You Gotta Get a Gimmick.” All under Michael Weber’s iconic direction, this team of artists (and so many more) have created a masterpiece.
Porchlight’s GYPSY needs to be seen by everyone. #representationmatters and with GYPSY, Porchlight once again uses their musical theatre platform to tell a gorgeous, incredibly human story.
GYPSY runs through November 25th. For more information visit PorchlightMusicTheatre.org.