Chicago Gypsy, With a Male Rose, Performed Feb. 7

News   Chicago Gypsy, With a Male Rose, Performed Feb. 7
Everything's still coming up roses, but this time for -- a man.
Lillabelle (dog), Marc Raben (Rose), Mary Riley (Dainty June)
Lillabelle (dog), Marc Raben (Rose), Mary Riley (Dainty June)

Everything's still coming up roses, but this time for -- a man.

No previous acting experience was necessary to place a bid four months ago at a casting auction held by the Victory Gardens Theatre in Chicago. All that was needed was a checkbook and a love of musical theatre.

For a Feb. 7 'one-night only' production of Gypsy, 10 principal roles were auctioned off in an evening of intense bidding (smaller parts were awarded by way of a silent auction), with the plum part of Rose going to twentysomething Marc Raben, whose friends and business associates pooled their resources to come up with the winning bid of $1,300.

The musical was staged at the Athenaeum Theatre in Chicago. The director was Dennis Zacek, the artistic director of Victory Gardens, who recently directed the world premiere of James Sherman's Romance in D and who is known for his meticulous and creative direction of nonmusicals. Which is not to say that he takes his duties as the director of Gypsy lightly -- Zacek put the cast members through their paces once a week throughout the holiday season, and they began rehearsing several times a week after Jan 1.

This is the 16th year that the casting auction has helped raise operating funds for the nonprofit theatre; Victory Gardens' previous auction productions include Annie, Guys and Dolls, Grease and Peter Pan. Last year's auction and tickets for The Music Man raised more than $39,000 for the theatre -- and Gypsy is expected to bring in even more than that. Raben, an employee of Cushman & Wakefield who has a degree in music from Lincoln (IL) College and who last year played Marcellus in The Music Man, said he is "thrilled" to be playing Rose.

Why Rose? "Why not?" said Raben. "It is the quintessential role in musical theatre. Rose is a brassy person -- and could be a brassy man or a woman."

"My girlfriend, an actress, is 100 percent supportive of my doing the role," he added.

Some of the Jule Styne-Stephen Sondheim songs have been transposed for Raben's lyric baritone voice, while others -- like "Together, Wherever We Go" -- are being sung in the original key used by Ethel Merman.

To prepare for the role, Raben said he is doing a lot of people- watching and has added such "womanly touches" to his characterization as "the side-leg cross."

What's next after getting to belt out that great show stopper "Rose's Turn"?

"I am still searching for my niche," says Raben. "Who knows what lies ahead?"

Gypsy is at the Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport in Chicago. For information, call (773) 549-5788.

-- By Rebecca Paller

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