Alexandra Billings, the transgendered Chicago actress whose autobiographical work, Before I Disappear, is known to Windy City audiences, will play Mama Rose in the musical, Gypsy, for Bailiwick Theatre Company in Chicago, Jan. 11-Feb. 11.
Billings is possibly the only transgendered performer to play the immortal, domineering stage mother originated by Ethel Merman. The unique casting is the likely reason Bailiwick dubbed this staging as "daring" in its initial announcements. The staging "will be talked about for years to come," according to the original press release.
The famed Arthur Laurents-Stephen Sondheim-Jule Styne musical — with Mama Rose singing "Everything's Coming Up Roses" and "Rose's Turn" — tells of the fictionalized origin of stripper Gypsy Rose Lee, who is overwhelmed by her mother's personality and ego. She is ultimately pushed into a life in burlesque by Mama Rose.
Official opening at the Mainstage Theater of the Bailiwick Arts Center is Jan. 15, 2001. The Gypsy cast of 21 will be directed by Bailiwick's artistic director David Zak, with choreography by Brenda Didier. The four-piece pit band is under the direction of Bill Underwood.
Designers are Brian S. Bembridge (sets), Jeff Jones (costumes) and Eric Appleton (lighting). Bailiwick has staged such musicals as Animal Farm, Pope Joan and The Christmas Schooner.
Billings has been an artistic associate for many years at Bailiwick, where she has been seen in Inferno Beach, Just Say No and her own Before I Disappear.
Amber Dow is June, and Susan Allison Miller, recently seen in The Ballad of Little Jo at Steppenwolf, plays Louise. Baby June and young Louise are played by 8-year-old Jaclyn Hergott and 9-year-old Susan Wiltrakis, respectively. Gary Saipe returns to Bailiwick as Herbie, and Andrew R. Delo makes his Chicago debut in the dancing role of Tulsa.
The talented burlesque strippers are played by Jill Henderlight (Mazeppa), Carrie McNulty (Tessie Tura) and Alanda Coon (Electra). The cast also includes Christopher J. Eccher, Ron Geronimo, Amber Dow, Susan Miller, John LaGuardia, Lynn Nosek, Gina Cappetta, Audrey Yeck, Peter Vamvakas, with Brendon Martin, Michael Patrick Reilly, Jeremy Levine and Alexander Roussos.
Tickets are $20-$30. For information, call (773) 883-1090. Visit the website at www.bailiwick.org.
— By Kenneth Jones