Capsule Reviews 

Our critics weigh in on local theater.

Gypsy -- Young Louise, hidden by Mama Rose in the shadow of more talented sister June, is forced to dress like the boys with whom she shares the chorus in a vaudeville act. Even after June decamps and Louise is pressed into the leading role, she's dressed in traditionally male garb as a toreador. Mary Bracken Phillips sums up everything Gypsy Rose Lee had to say about the whirlwind Mama Rose: ambitious, seductive, wily, and a dreamer who has sacrificed everything in an attempt to make her children the stars she herself wanted to be. The Willows turns out a bright, lively Gypsy. They've always had a knack for finding talented kids for their shows, and this one needs plenty for all the nifty song and dance numbers. Especially noteworthy is Emily Trumble, who is subtly heartbreaking as Baby Louise watching her sister June take the spotlight, although all of the younger roles are well acted, sung, and danced. The adults aren't too shabby either; Briann Gagnon's adult Louise is sad, awkward, and eventually stunning, and Madeline Trumble is believably saucy as the would-be child star who has had it up to here with their mother's pushiness. (Through August 1 at the Willows; 925-798-1300 or WillowsTheatre.org)

Master Class -- The life of Maria Callas is still studded with mysteries. One of the greatest opera singers of all time, she redefined the form. Conductors fell over themselves pulling out operas that had languished in obscurity because there was finally someone capable of singing them. She was a consummate artist who worked incredibly hard on every aspect of her craft, yet her artistry was often overshadowed by public distortion of her troubled personal life. Her troubled childhood with a domineering mother, her marriage to the much older Giovanni Battista Meneghini and his abuse of his position as her manager, her affair with Aristotle Onassis, the unproven rumors of a love child; all of these things fascinated the public. Equally titillating were the charges that Callas was unreasonable, temperamental, capricious; that she canceled performances at a whim and deliberately sowed rivalry with other singers. Master Class integrates some of the details of her life without getting too far into the soup of what did and did not really happen. For all of the drama, mystery, and sadness around Callas' life, McNally's homage is relaxed, humorous, and open. While there are a few opera in-jokes, they're not off-putting to the rookie. And Rita Moreno captures Callas effortlessly, down to the precise hand gestures that recall photos of Callas in performance and the beautifully modulated voice. (Through July 25 at the Berkeley Rep; 510-647-2949 or BerkeleyRep.org)

Victor/Victoria -- Victoria Grant is a soprano wandering 1920s Paris looking for a gig: She's cold, hungry, and broke. Fortunately she meets the charming Toddy, who has the bright idea of dressing her up as his new boyfriend and pawning "Victor" off as "Europe's greatest female impersonator." Where Victoria couldn't get work, Victor goes gangbusters -- at least until the debonair (and very straight) King Marchan shows up and the two fall in love. The production now at the Masquers Playhouse features a few knockout performances, namely Vanessa Schepps as Victoria/Victor, Michael O'Brien as Toddy, and Michelle Pond as Norma Cassidy. Although Schepps could stand to show a little less confidence as "Victor" -- it would be nice to see more of how Victoria learns to play male -- she has a lovely voice. Sadly, some of the good bits of the film got excised to tighten up the stage version, and writer Blake Edwards and lyricist Leslie Bricusse made some disagreeable changes. But the beds are the roughest spot in this production. Many of the scenes take place in two adjoining hotel rooms. The set designers solved the problem by building one large bed that hinges in the middle and gets rolled out when necessary. Unfortunately, even with the stagehands' speed and precision, this takes way too long. This isn't nitpicking: It's a bad sign when the audience starts to hoot derisively every time the stagehands show up with the bed. Still, this show is fun, especially if you've never seen the movie and don't know all the surprises in store. (Through July 24 at the Masquers Playhouse; 510-232-3888 or Masquers.org)

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