ome see Mama Little's handiwork for yourself! Recent years have seen MJ Harper play larger-than-life roles with PCT: She was the plant in "Little Shop of Horrors," Mama in "Hairspray," and a sultry nightclub starlet who belted out Sinatra tunes in "My Way."
But her latest role required her to be much more genuine and real: She's portraying Mama Rose in "Gypsy," a role based on the true-life woman named Rose Thompson Hovick, (August 31, 1890 – January 28, 1954) who was the pushy stage mother of two famous performing daughters: burlesque artist Gypsy Rose Lee and actress and dancer June Havoc.
It was daunting for two reasons: Mama's solo numbers are vocally and emotionally challenging. And the show is about her relationship with her two daughters. MJ, 29, has no children. But as a music teacher of 8 years in Ft. Scott, and having shepherded little ones on and off stage at PCT for years, MJ draws on her feelings of them being "her babies."
"There's a fine line between doing things for them because you want so badly for them to succeed, and letting them do things for themselves," she said. "For Mama Rose, it's not that she doesn't love her babies — it's that she has something in her that isn't fulfilled. I'm sure to some extent, every mom wrestles with those feelings at some point."
MJ said she counts herself lucky: Many wonderful moms have influenced her life in very positive ways, including her own mother, Gertrude Harper.
She said she draws on her mother's experiences as an Air Force wife, moving from place to place as Mama Rose and her daughters in, to connect to scenes in the show where they're on the move a lot.
Harper, who earned a music education degree from Pittsburg State with an emphasis in vocal performance, said she considers this the role of a lifetime.
"I'm humbled that there are people who trust me to do this," she said.
Don't miss hearing MJ in “Gypsy," which runs July 28-31; tickets are on sale now at www.memorialauditorium.org and at the box office at 503 N. Pine, 620-231-7827.