In a somewhat parallel storyline to our show, Janelle Cowan, who portrays Miss Gypsy Rose Lee, was inspired to get into theatre by her real-life sister, Alicia, while they were students at St. Mary’s-Colgan High School.
“Alicia started doing plays, and I always looked up to her,” Janelle recalled. “I wanted to do what she did, so I decided to try it.”
The real-life striptease artist Gypsy Rose Lee (Rose Louise Hovick, 1911-1970) was the sister of June Havoc, who had natural talent and was the first to do everything. Louise followed along in her footsteps; when June eloped with a boy in her vaudeville show, Louise was thrust into the spotlight by their mother, Mama Rose, and rose to stardom as an actress, author, playwright, and a morning talk show host. (June went on to later act on Broadway and in Hollywood, stage directed, and appeared on TV in the soap opera "General Hospital.")
Unsure about musical theatre but wanting to try, Janelle took a nod from Alicia and auditioned for PCT’s “The Music Man” as a sophomore in high school and got a part in the ensemble.
“From then on, I was hooked,” Janelle said.
Her most role prior to Gypsy was in PCT’s 2014 production of “Annie.”
Janelle went on to graduate from Pittsburg State in 2013, and now works as an administrative specialist at the Bicknell Family Center for the Arts where she is surrounded by show business on a daily basis.
Preparing to portray a character based on a real-life person — particularly one like Gypsy Rose Lee — was more work than she’s ever done for a role, she said.
“But it’s also my favorite role so far,” she said. “Getting to be her as she transforms and grows up and gets better at what she does, gains confidence, is I guess a lot like me.”
Her cast mates and audiences agree that Janelle has mastered the role flawlessly, including changing costumes a physically demanding seven times. Toward the end of the show, she changes into four evening gowns and long gloves in a matter of minutes. Her fastest change? From a pink gown to a yellow one in a mere 12 seconds.
And as for Alicia: After appearing in PCT productions like “The Hobbit,” “The Crucible,” and “Pippin,” she went on to become a graphic designer. She did not, however, elope!
Don't miss Janelle on stage as Gypsy Rose Lee in Gypsy July 28-31; tickets are on sale now at www.memorialauditorium.org and at the box office at 503 N. Pine, 620-231-7827.