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A CurtainUp Review

It's Patti's Turn and It's Once Again a Wow!
Laura Benanti as Gypsy Rose Lee
(Photo: Joan Marcus)
Lucky me. . .and lucky everyone else who wasn't in town last summer to see the Encores! revival of Gypsy. The show, the first in the series' to have an expanded, fully staged production has now transferred to Broadway with the same cast and creative team, and the man responsible for the show's enduringly rich book again at the helm.

Simon Saltzman who reviewed the City Center production and went back to see it at the St. James when I did was blown away all over again. He declared the transfer to be, if anything, even more sublime —with Patti LuPone and Laura Benanti deepening and honing their performances as the unstoppable Momma Rose and the pathetic, no-talent Louise turned into a confident and defiant adult.

Whatever the differences between the City Center Gypsy and the current one, as I write this I'm still rung out from that electrifying " Rose's Turn" and the entire two and a half hours of musical theater at its most thrilling. The brilliant collaboration by Arthur Laurents, Jule Styne and Stephen Sondheim has made this a musical of musicals, and created a character in Momma Rose that's the Medea, Lady Macbeth, Mary Tyrone, Blache DuBois all rolled into the modern musical's juiciest and most coveted role.

Following in the footsteps of numerous stars, LuPone has put her own amazingly unique footprint on the role. She's made the volcanic second act aria, "Rose's Turn," an unforgettable "Patti's Turn." And Laurents has managed to find new depths in his own brilliant book, so that for all of the tuneful hit-upon-hit Styne score and inspired, character defining Sondheim lyrics, this is as much a play with integral music as a musical with a strong story line.

While LuPone is the box office name in this Gypsy, this is a win-win-win cast. As LuPone meets the tough challenge of showing the vulnerable loving side of the monstrously ambitious and misguided Rose, so Benanti manages to reconcile the pigailed, awkwardly untalented Louise we see for most of the show with the cool woman who has turned a step down the lowest rung of the show business ladder into her own kind of super stardom. It's the way Benanti taps into Louise's needy devotion to her mother and shows her to be not just a good listener but an emotionally engaged one (especially during the Tulsa dance number by Tony Yazbeck and the three strippers' demonstration of the fine points of strip tease) that makes the Louise-to-Miss Gypsy Rose Lee transformation and the mother-daughter rapprochement completely convincing.

It's the way Benanti's delighted interaction with the three strippers that also gives those tough gals' "You've Gotta Get a Gimmick" newly poignant as well as the usually funny resonance. Lenora Nemetz who plays one of those strippers, Mazeppa, as well as the crotchety, crusty Miss Cratchett is the only cast replacement and she is more than up to both parts. A temporary replacement at the performance I saw—-Katie Micha as Baby June— did just fine in the delightfully hokey kiddy numbers.

Leigh Ann Larkin brings an apt touch of sibling nastyness to the older June and Boyd Gaines, best known for his roles in straight dramas and as a marvelously realized stumblebum in the dance musical Contact, is a most satisfying Herbie. You want him to stand up to Rose long before he finally does and yet you understand why he's trapped the minute he lays eyes on her and tells her "You look like a pioneer woman without a frontier. "

I'll stop here and refer you to Simon's review below since it pretty much says it all: Thanks to the enduring brilliance of the book, music and lyrics, the excellence of the cast headed by the galvanic LuPone, Arthur Laurents' nuanced direction and the on the mark stagecraft. . . everything at the St. James is indeed coming up roses. With all this talent no gimmick is needed and awards galore are a sure thing.

Except for the venue and performance notes below, the production notes and songs are the same as the ones at the end of the review below, with the one cast change, as already noted, being Lenora Nemetz in the two roles previously played by Nancy Opel.

St. James Theatre, 246 West 44th Street 212/239-6200
Tickets $117 to $42. Monday to Saturday @ 8pm, Wednesday & Saturday @ 2pm; beginning March 31: Tuesday to Saturday @ 8pm, Wednesday & Saturday @ 2pm, Sunday @ 3pm. From 3/03/08; opening 3/27/08. Re-reviewed by Elyse Sommer at March 26th press matinee Closing 1/11/09 after a total of 27 previews and 332 regular performances.

—original review by By Simon Saltzman

Sing out, Louise.— Rose
Patti LuPone as Rose
Patti LuPone as Rose (Photo: Joan Marcus)
Expectations were high. Expectations are surpassed. Patti LuPone triumphs incomparably as Rose in the greatest musical of them all. And it isn't as if some of the most brilliant stars of the musical theater have not tackled this formidable role. Under the consummate direction of renowned playwright Arthur Laurents, who authored the musical's original book, this is the Gypsy that has been too long in coming: one that achieves not only the stellar performances it demands in every one of its well-written roles, but is one helluva production that virtually eclipses memories of all previous revivals. There are some of us around who may be willing to say that this is closer in spirit, if not better in some ways, to the original 1959 production that starred the legendary Ethel Merman.

This fully-staged production is the first in a new series Encores! Summer Stars, an expansion of the popular City Center's Encore series of minimally staged concerts of older but musically worthy Broadway shows. This production boasts excellent sets by James Youmans and splendid costumes by Martin Pakledinaz that amusingly evoke the 1920s and 1930s. The thrills begin with the overture that, in case you have been living on some other planet, is the most invigorating overture ever written for an American musical. (okay, so you prefer Leonard Bernstein's more highfalutin' Candide). It not only works up a frenzy of response before the show begins, but is played by a 25 member on-stage orchestra under the direction of Patrick Vaccariello (you won't hear anything like this coming from the pit any time soon).

As the curtains part for the first time, the orchestra is first seen behind a two scrims. The scrims rise sequentially for the main portion of the overture only to be lowered with the arrival of the first setting. It is the stage of a tacky vaudeville house with a rotting curtain and proscenium arch that will also serve as the frame for the rest of the show.

Perhaps, what is most unexpectedly gratifying about this most witty, pungent, and dramatically solid piece of work in all of musical theater is Laurents's direction. Could he have done a bit of tweaking here and there? Although this " musical fable" takes a full 2 hours and 45 minutes to run its course, it is 15 minutes shorter than its most recent revival in 2003 under British director Sam Mendes. Laurents keeps the show moving like the wind, a gusty one at that. He makes the dramatic points in the book scenes and in the musical sequences sharp and even brutal without compromising their often very funny and tender components. Every scene resonates with a real commitment to this musical's needs. You could cite it as the King Lear of musicals.

Suggested by the memoirs of Gypsy Rose Lee, the Jule Styne (music) -Stephen Sondheim (lyrics) -Arthur Laurents collaboration tells the oft-told tale of the proverbial backstage mother vicariously living through the careers of her daughters. The theme remains an ongoing enigma in show business. I suspect that many can relate to the tragic misplacement of love and energies that this musical reveals so frankly. In Gypsy, it becomes more than an entertainment: it becomes a parable.

LuPone, whose musical theater career, from Evita to the recent Sweeney Todd, is known for its peaks and valleys, has again picked an Ethel Merman originated role to show off her acting gifts and vocal chops. You may remember the guiltless fun that LuPone had in the 1987 Lincoln Center revival of that earlier Merman vehicle Anything Goes. While it seems unfortunate that LuPone seems destined to distinguish herself mainly in revivals, it is apparent that she makes every role she undertakes her own. She has, with qualifications, excitingly captured the essence of Rose. When you consider how this role has been previously empowered by such diverse personalities as Angela Lansbury, Tyne Daley, Bette Midler, Betty Buckley, as well as a brave try by the otherwise inimitable Bernadette Peters, it is all the more remarkable how fearsome and fresh is LuPone's interpretation.

As a theater, screen and TV actor of considerable versatility, LuPone's biggest hurdle, something that she handles with, to borrow a line from one of the strippers, "finesse," is to show off Rose's more vulnerable side through an otherwise tough façade. LuPone has both the vocal authority and dramatic heft to deliver Rose as a monster mom, but also as a needy neurotic. She takes great chances by taking the songs sometimes above and beyond the desperate and formidable dramatic arcs that propel Rose. While such songs as "Some People," duets like "Small World," and "You'll Never Get Away From Me" allow LuPone to prove how she can assume Rose's mellower side, it is with the more demanding "Everything's Coming Up Roses," and "Rose's Turn" that she expectedly captures the crusty edge and the electrifying resonance these songs need.

This is the rare Gypsy where you can expect everything to come up roses. Laura Benanti is intensely affecting and stirs a genuine emotional eddy as the untalented Louise, a heartbreaking character whose disdain for her mother is offset by her astonishing success as an indifferent but glamorous stripper. What a delight to see the three past-their-prime strippers played with such hilariously concerted touches. Showing the naïve Louise that it takes more than a simple bump and grind to be a success in burlesque are Alison Fraser, as the klutzy ballerina Tessie Tura, Nancy Opel, as the trumpeting Mazeppa and Marilyn Caskey, as the over-the-hill Electra. With no visible expenditure of energy, Caskey brings down the house with her blasé executed turns and blinks.

Another plus is the appealing personality and humanity that Boyd Gaines (direct from his award-winning role in Journey's End) brings to the role of Herbie, Rose's persistent and patient lover. As Tulsa, Tony Yazbeck makes his dance in the spotlight —"All I Need Is the Girl"— another one of the many shining moments in the show. As good as he is, however, you can't help but notice Benanti's changing expressions as she sits and watches him wistfully and then gracefully becomes part of his beautifully danced dream. Bonnie Walker has reproduced the original choreography by Jerome Robbins.

This is a Gypsy reproduced to a peak of perfection, with the kind of insightful, painful and show-stopping dramatic punctuations that confirm it the classic that it is. Will someone please write one more original show-stopping role for LuPone? Is that too much to ask?

  Directed by Arthur Laurents
Original Production directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins
  Book: Arthur Laurents
  Music: Jule Styne
Lyrics: Stephen Sondheim
  Choreography: Jerome Robbins (as reproduced by Bonnie Walker)
Cast (In order of appearance):
Jim Bracchitta (Uncle Jocko, Pastey)
Bill Bateman (Georgie--also Mr. Goldstone, Bougeron-Cochon)
Jim Bracchitta (Pastey)
(Vladimir), Pearce Wegener( Driver)
Kyrian Friedenberg (Rich Boy)
Katie Micha (Balloon Girl)
Emma Rowley (Baby Louise)
Sami Gayle(Baby June)
Patti LuPone(Rose)
Bill Raymond (Pop)
Matthew Lobenhofer (Tap Dancer)
Andy Richardson (Boy Scout, Charlie)< br> Brian Reddy (Weber, Phil)
Boyd Gaines (Herbie)
Leigh Ann Larkin (Dainty June)
Rider Quentin Stanton (Hopalong)
Laura Benanti (Louise)
Pearce Wegener (Yonkers)
Steve Konopelski (L.A)
Tony Yazbeck (Tulsa)
John Scacchett (Kansas)
Geo Seery (Little Rock)
Matty Price (East St. Louis)
Jessica Rush (Waitress, also Renee)
Nancy Opel (Miss Cratchittm)
Bill Raymond (Cigar) Nicole Mangi (Agnes)
Alicia Sable (Majorie May)
Mindy Dougherty (Geraldine) Nancy Renee Braun (Edna Mae)
Sarah Marie Hicks (Carol Ann)
Beckley Andrews (Betsy Ann)
Alison Fraser (Tessie Tura)
Marilyn Caskey (Electra)
Set Design: James Youmans
Costume Design: Martin Pakledinaz
  Lighting Design: Howell Binkley
  Sound Design: Dan Moses Schreier
  Orchestrations: Sid Ramin & Robert Ginzler
  Music Director Patrick Vaccariello
  Wig and Hair: Paul Huntley
Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes, including 15 minute intermission
  New York City Center, W. 55th Street212-581-1212
July 9 to Jul 29, 2007;opening July 14, 2007
  Mon. & Tues. nights at 7 PM; Wed. — Sat. at 8 PM; sun. evening at 7 PM; matinees Wed. & Sat. at 2 PM (not exceptions: no performances July 27 and 28).
  Tickets: $25 — $110br>  Reviewed by Simon Saltzman on July 14, 2007
Musical Numbers (Dance Music Arranged by John Kander Additional Dance Music by Betty Walberg)
Act One
  • Overture /The Orchestra
  • May We Entertain You /Baby June and Baby Louise
  • Some People/ Rose
  • Reprise: Some People /Rose
  • Small World /Rose and Herbie
  • Baby June and Her Newsboys/ Baby June, Baby Louise and Newsboys
  • Have an Eggroll, Mr. Goldstone / Rose, Herbie, June, Mr. Goldstone and Boys
  • Little Lamb /Louise
  • You'll Never Get Away From Me /Rose and Herbie
  • Dainty June and Her Farmboys /Dainty June and Farmboys
  • If Momma Was Married /Louise and June
  • All I Need Is the Girl/ Tulsa and Louise
  • Everything's Coming Up Roses /Rose
Act Two
  • Entr'acte /The Orchestra
  • Madame Rose's Toreadorables/ Louise and the Hollywood Blondes
  • Together/ Rose, Herbie and Louise
  • You Gotta Get a Gimmick /Mazeppa, Electra and Tessie Tura
  • The Strip /Louise
  • Rose's Turn/ Rose
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