"

Sell

it . . .

sell

it!" barks Momma Rose, the industrial-strength stage mother, as her girls audition for a producer in the classic musical

Gypsy

. "

Sell

it

. . . sell

it!" is what you want to bark from the audience at New Candlelight Theatre, where the current production of

Gypsy

never really gets off the shelf.

If ever a musical was written to explode from the stage, it's this one. Producing the show right now is tough, when a few hours away on Broadway, Patti LuPone is making

Gypsy

do just that in a performance directed by the man who literally wrote the book, Arthur Laurents. Such are the quirks of theater-season scheduling; New Candlelight, just across the Pennsylvania line in Ardentown, Del., scheduled its production well before Broadway producers booked theirs.

Not that the two couldn't work simultaneously. People come to New Candlelight, a professional theater, for an evening's experience that also includes dinner, so it's an expanded sort of event with an audience interested in more than the show alone. Still, good theater happens wherever it's staged, and it's a pity New Candlelight's

Gypsy

isn't happening more forcefully.

Normally, New Candlelight manages to overcome its canned orchestral background - in fact, the pre-recorded accompaniments to the singers can be robust and convincing. This time, though, the recorded stuff comes across as more than a little tinny and often sounds as if the cast is doing a mere sing-along.

Gypsy

is nothing if not a conspiracy between a music director in the orchestra pit and the actors on stage, who must convince an audience during the course of two acts that everyone's in umpteen different theaters. On those stages across America, Momma Rose tries, at any cost, to make her girls into vaudeville stars, and later shadows the one who becomes the stripper Gypsy Rose Lee - the woman who in real life made shedding a form of mainstream entertainment.

But no real music director exists for New Candlelight's

Gypsy

, so the piped music has no way to play off the cast's renditions, which include a lot of songs in which characterizations are supposed to blossom. Instead, this

Gypsy

has a metronome quality. Blockbuster deliveries and numbers that are their own little life-forces come off, in Robert Kelly's production, as pro-forma attempts. "You'll Never Get Away From Me," "Together Wherever We Go," "If Momma Was Married" (which the program doesn't even list) and, of course, the iconic finale called "Rose's Turn" were written for a wallop, not a tap.

Martina Vidmar does get some punch out of that last one, but her Rose is too down-to-earth and not steely enough to make us believe her; Vidmar acquires a street-smart accent in the very last minutes of the show, which is strange enough, but until then she's been more a complainer than a fighter. AJ Garcia stands out as Tulsa, who falls in love with Momma's favorite girl, June (Beth Wheeler). If all the numbers were as brightly performed as Garcia's "All I Need Is the Girl," the show would take a huge leap.

Michael Iannucci as Herbie, Rose's lover and the girls' agent, aptly captures the character's patience, but in his eventual falling out with Rose, his rage is overdone. Rebecca Schall plays Louise, who becomes Gypsy, with a nice transformation from innocence into a sort of back-room sophistication, and the three strippers who convince her that "You Gotta Get a Gimmick" - Amy Walton, Kati Lyles and Gerri Weagraff - are fun. Many of the elements of this

Gypsy

are there. They just don't quite come together.

Gypsy

Through July 27 at New Candlelight Theater, 2208 Millers Road, Ardentown, Del. Tickets: $50 weekdays, $55 weekends, including buffet dinner. Information: 302-475-2313 or

.

Contact staff writer Howard Shapiro at 215-854-5727 or hshapiro@phillynews.com. Read his recent work at http:// go.philly.com/howardshapiro.