Carrie McNulty is Rose in Wagon Wheel Theatre’s production of ‘Gypsy.’ Photo provided.
Carrie McNulty is Rose in Wagon Wheel Theatre’s production of ‘Gypsy.’ Photo provided.
Carrie McNulty and Tony Humrichouser have been best friends for many years, but they haven’t worked together at the Wagon Wheel Theatre in a  while.
McNulty hasn’t even appeared on the Warsaw stage since her role as Miss Gultch and the Witch in the 2008 production of “The Wizard of Oz.”
She began at the theater in 1996 and appeared in full seasons through 1999. Starting in around 2000, she started coming down for one particular show every year until about 2004. She did “Oz” in 2008 as a tribute to Artistic Director Roy Hine, who died in 2007, and hasn’t made an appearance until this season.
This year, in his 22nd season at the Wagon Wheel, Humrichouser is directing McNulty as Rose in the musical “Gypsy.” The musical runs through July 12.
“We definitely have a rich history here, both together and separate,” McNulty said during an interview Monday afternoon. “But Tony performed in more shows than he’s directed.”
Humrichouser last directed “The Nerd” during the 2013 season. He started acting at the WWT in 1993 with “Bye, Bye Birdie.” In 1996, he directed his first show, “Camelot.”
“I’ve teetered and tottered between directing and performing,” he said. “But I’ve consistently directed for the past seven years, eight years. Usually one a season. They usually ask me to do the classics. And I enjoy doing them.”
“And he’s amazing,” McNulty stated. “And it might seem like I’m biased because, like I said, he’s one of my dearest friends for a hundred years; but even just watching Tony speak to the company that was the age I was when I started here, watching him – even though we were all weary and worn out last night – giving notes and tweaks, he misses nothing. He is invested in everything. He is so incredibly inspiring. Not only are us, the company, getting wonderful direction and piecing together our unique production of ‘Gypsy,’ but they’re, and I believe I as well, learning so much, on stage as well as off.”
Humrichouser praised McNulty just as much.
“When (Artistic Director) Scott (Michaels) said ‘I want you to direct ‘Gypsy’ next year,’ I said you don’t do ‘Gypsy’ without knowing who is going to play your Mama Rose. And immediately I said I want Carrie to do Mama Rose. So that’s when it went into motion, and we were able to negotiate with Equity and Carrie and it worked out, so I’m really, really lucky because 60 percent of the show is her and her being with Louise. She’s the engine. Without her, the show doesn’t happen, so I’m really, really lucky,” he said.
Humrichouser said he and McNulty are such old friends that they can communicate in “that scary twin-like language.”
“I can just say a word and she goes, ‘Oh right!’” he said. “Like we kind of talk to each other in sound bites, which is kind of nice in the rehearsal hall because there’s so much to do, I can just look at her and she’s like, ‘I got it!’”
McNulty said, “There’s such a mutual understanding and respect that with what could be an incredibly pressurized situation, putting this project up – it’s a celebrated show, such an iconic role, it can feel overwhelming – but being in his hands and trusting him the way I trust him there is such a joy that replaces that feeling of nerves and overwhelming. He knows exactly what to say, exactly how to say it and we’re right back on track.”
She said it was the combination of the role and working with Humrichouser that brought her back to the Wagon Wheel after a six-year absence.
Rose is an iconic role that has been played by many celebrated “divas” of the music world – Ethel Merman, Angela Landsbury, Rosalind Russell, Bette Midler, Tyne Daly, Bernadette Peters and Patti LuPone.
“It’s an actress’s dream to aspire to play,” McNulty said. “So clearly the opportunity to do that is a huge draw. I would not be here doing this show if it wasn’t for the history I have here, Tony wanting to do it with me. Bruce, Scott, Tom, Jen – these are people we have a rich history with so there’s a family feel, a trust. So definitely a combination of both. Without Tony I wouldn’t be here doing it.”
“Gypsy” is about a family whose matriarch is the ultimate stage mother. When one daughter, June, leaves her and the family act because Rose is too unbearing, the mother pushes her other daughter, Louise, onto the stage. Louise becomes the most famous striptease artist in history, but at a cost. The musical is based on the 1957 memoir of Gypsy Rose Lee.
“I think every family has dysfunction, right? I don’t think there’s one family without it,” Humrichouser stated. “But the interesting thing about this is, it’s a quest for a parent to want for their child that which they have not been able to get for themselves. It’s very universal. Unfortunately, what happens is that she gets blinded by fame. It becomes really important. It’s really relevant with what’s happening today. We were talking about all these reality shows on TV – parents that were unable to achieve a goal when they were a child then they push their child into something that they retrofit their child into their dream.”
Then there’s throwback for it, he said. In “Gypsy,” the throwback is quite great, but it is about the deterioration of family, vaudeville and what happens.
“It is constructed so beautifully. Ultimately it’s about families, the need to be recognized and loved. Really, that’s what the show is about,” Humrichouser said.
As for the striptease in the show, he said burlesque is often misconceived as stripping.
“It’s a very different art form. Burlesque is all about eliminating clothing but not actually showing you anything. It’s more an art form of seduction than it is of gratuitous ...,” he said.
“It’s not vulgar,” McNulty interjected, especially in this production of “Gypsy.”
“It’s all done very tastefully,” Humrichouser said.
To see the full two-part video interview, visit the free video section of the Times-Union at www.timesuniononline.com
Tickets for “Gypsy” at the Wagon Wheel range from $15 to $34. Discounts are available for college students and on designated performances for seniors. For more information, visit www.wagonwheeltheatre.org or call the box office at 574-267-8041.