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Theater & Dance
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Callanan lands her dream acting role in ‘Gypsy’

Callanan lands her dream acting role in ‘Gypsy’

Aging just a bit isn’t slowing down Mary Callanan. She’s busier and happier than ever.
Callanan lands her dream acting role in ‘Gypsy’
Mama Rose, played by Mary Callanan, right, with daughters Baby June (Alexis Papaleo), center, and Baby Louise (Amelia Rose Allen) in 'Gypsy: A Musical Fable' at Capital Repertory Theatre. (Joe Schuyler)

Aging just a bit isn’t slowing down Mary Callanan. She’s busier and happier than ever.

A Boston native, Callanan is playing Rose in the smash Broadway musical “Gypsy: A Musical Fable” at the Capital Repertory Theatre in Albany. It’s the role she’s waited to play for a lifetime.

“I am thrilled beyond measure,” said Callanan, who was picked from an audition in New York City by Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill, the producing artistic director at Capital Rep. “Maggie took a chance on me and I’m very excited about it. Usually, a producer has someone in mind when they decide to do a show like this, but I had no affiliation with Capital Rep so I was surprised. It’s a dream come true for me.”

The show begins with previews on Friday night, opens next Tuesday and runs through April 13. Mancinelli-Cahill is directing the show, which also stars Broadway veteran Bob Walton as Herbie and New York City’s Kelsey Crouch as Louise.

The story of an overbearing mother driven to see her two daughters succeed in show business, “Gypsy” was a collaboration of Jule Styne (music), Stephen Sondheim (lyrics) and Arthur Laurents (book). It originally opened on Broadway in 1959 with Ethel Merman playing Mama Rose and was nominated for eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical. While it was overshadowed by Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “The Sound of Music” in 1959 and failed to win a Tony, it has continued to entertain lovers of musical theater with four successful Broadway revivals, a popular 1962 movie with Rosalind Russell, and a quality made-for-television production in 1993 with Bette Midler. Russell and Midler both won Golden Globes for their performances.

American classic

“I think it is the quintessential American musical,” said Callanan, who recently served as an understudy for Mrs. Pugh in “Annie” on Broadway. “This is the standard, in my opinion, that all musicals should be held up to. It’s an unbelievable score by Styne and Sondheim, and Arthur Laurents adapted Gypsy Rose Lee’s own memoir. It’s based on fact. It’s filed under ‘you can’t make this up.’ It’s a great story.”

‘Gypsy: A Musical Fable’

‘Gypsy: A Musical Fable’

WHERE: Capital Repertory Theatre, 111 N. Pearl St., Albany

WHEN: Previews Friday through Sunday; opens Tuesday and runs through April 13; performances at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday

HOW MUCH: $65-$20

MORE INFO: 445-7469, www.capitalrep.org

As for playing Rose, Callanan said it doesn’t get any better than that.

“This role is the holy grail, especially for character actors who can carry a tune,” said Callanan. “There’s Rose, and then there is Dolly, Mame and maybe Mrs. Lovett in ‘Sweeney Todd.’ But Mama Rose is kind of the King Lear for someone like me. I usually play the best friend, the second banana, that type of character. In my perfect world, I’ll be playing this part for ever.”

The singing part certainly isn’t a problem for Callanan. She can easily belt out songs such as “Some People,” “Everything’s Coming up Roses” and the show-closing “Rose’s Turn.”

Cabaret singer

“My second job is as a cabaret singer, which I’ve done for more than 20 years, and I’ve sang for big bands and all kinds of bands,” she said. “I didn’t actually get involved in theater until after my college graduation. I started out as a character actor, and I played a lot of nuns when I was younger, so I guess it wasn’t necessary for me to start so young. Getting a bit older opens up more parts for me.”

Along with her one Broadway turn as an understudy for Mrs. Pugh (she did get on stage a handful of times), Callanan has done national tours of “Mamma Mia!,” “Damn Yankees,” “The Sound of Music,” and “Cinderella.”

“I feel like my life the last few years has really helped me for this part,” said Callanan. “You’re a family on tour, and roaming around the country and trying to fulfill your dream is a lot like ‘Gypsy.’ Living on the road is tough, and I’ve had some of those life experiences the characters in ‘Gypsy’ have had. Most of that experience I love.”

One of those joyous memories includes heading to Ambition Restaurant on Jay Street in Schenectady when she was in the national tour of “Mamma Mia” in July 2011 at Proctors, playing Rosie.

“I have to give a shout-out to Ambition,” she said. “I love that place, and Proctors was great. It’s one of those theaters I used to dream about playing when I was a little girl growing up in Boston.”

In Walton and Crouch, Callanan has two talented co-stars. Walton has been on Broadway in shows such as “City of Angels” and “Once Upon a Mattress,” while Crouch, a 2006 graduate of Syracuse University where she went on to get her MFA, has performed in Shanghai in “Zorro, the Musical,” and in Jerusalem in “Parade.”

Zahn in cast

Among the Capital Region actors in the cast are Channel 13-WNYT news anchor Benita Zahn, Joe Phillips, Tony Pallone and Heather-Liz Copps. Troy resident and Broadway veteran Freddy Rodriguez is also in the cast and doubling up as the show’s choreographer, assisted by Susan Caputo.

Zahn, making her Capital Rep debut, is playing Electra, one of three strippers in the show who help turn Louise into Gypsy Rose Lee. LoriAnn Frieda is Tessie Tura and Hillary Parker is Mazeppa.

“I have to give a shout-out to my fellow strippers,” said Zahn. “We’re having a lot of fun doing our big number, ‘You Gotta Have a Gimmick.’”

As for the other vocals, Callanan and Crouch are something to see and hear according to Zahn.

“Kelsey is really talented, and Mary, well, she has a Mama Rose voice,” said Zahn. “Mary’s voice is huge, and it’s got real depth to it. During rehearsals, I just sit there and watch them. Talk about talent. This place is brimming with it, and that includes the young local kids we have in the show.”

Emily Louise Franklin is playing Dainty June, Amelia Rose Allen is Baby Louise and Alexis Papaleo is her little sister, Baby June. Taking on the role of Louise as a teenager is Albany’s Cara O’Brien.

Reach Gazette reporter Bill Buell at 395-3190 or bbuell@dailygazette.com.

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