Broadway Diva Patti LuPone taking her turn as Mama Rose, the mother of all stage mothers, commands the stage like no other in the Arthur Laurents’ revival of the great American masterpiece “Gypsy,” which began life last summer as part of City Center’s Encores! Series. The musical boasts a legendary score by Jule Styne with lyrics by Stephen Sondheim that includes such classic songs as “Some People,” “Small World,” ‘You’ll Never Get Away From Me,” Everything’s Coming Up Roses,” and “Rose’s Turn. Add to that the first rate book by Mr. Laurents and you have what is considered to be the definitive back stage musical.
When City Center’s three week engagement quickly sold out, the word of LuPone’s astonishing performance spread like a wildfire building tremendous enthusiasm for a transfer to Broadway, where the woman, who many believe was born to play Mama Rose, could strut her stuff for the world to see. And so it has come to pass. Its Patti’s turn and the accolades are in. But not so fast there is something askew in Laurents’ highly stylized staging and the Broadway transfer has apparently lost some vital ingredient. How could this happen?
Reportedly unhappy with Sam Mendes’ staging of the Bernadette Peters’ Gypsy in 2003, Mr. Laurents, now 89 years old, replicates the 1959 staging of the show’s original director/choreographer, Jerome Robbins.
Laurents did similar revivals with Angela Lansbury in 1974 and Tyne Daly in 1989, which won both ladies the coveted Tony Award.
LuPone may be the closest incarnation ever to Ethel Merman’s original Rose and her marvelously supple voice possesses both power and nuance. She is an immensely gifted performer, a dynamic presence and a Broadway diva with unrivaled belting skills that make her perfectly suited to the role and the music. She has a splendid supporting cast that feature an ideal Laura Benanti as Louise, the tomboy turned stripper, a terrific Boyd Gaines as Herbie, her long suffering agent/fiancée, a winning Leigh Ann Larkin as Dainty June plus a trio of jaded old strippers, Alison Fraser, Lenora Nemetz and Marilyn Caskey for additional spice.
The original book by Laurents is a marvel for musicals – astute with psychological shadings that are both dark and ironic – explaining its lasting appeal as a metaphor for the destructive pressures of America’s success credo of win no matter what. The music is simply sensational. Laurents’ direction with Jerome Robbins original choreography (reproduced by Bonnie Walker) make for a slick production, an unabashedly brazen steamroller, with only occasional flashes of brilliance.
Most moments go by the wayside in his broad rendering and the shattering conclusion is not so shattering. The show wows you with dazzling skill, but ultimately moves you only slightly. Leaving the theater we overheard two friends, whose opinions we respect. The interchange went like this: Friend one. “Did we love it?” Friend two, “I was disappointed, she lacked inspiration.” Friend one, “Yes it was more magical at City Center.”
By: Gordin & Chrisitiano
Originally Published in Dans Papers
“Gypsy” opened on March 27, 2008 at the St. James Theatre, 246 W 44th Street between Broadway and Eight Ave. For tickets call Telecaharge at 212-239-6200 or at the box office.