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A CurtainUp Review

You look like a pioneer woman without a frontier
---Herbie to Rose, the woman who has staked out vaudeville as the frontier on which to make her mark, with her daughters as stand-ins for her own frustrated ambition.
Bernadette Peters
(Photo: Joan Marcus)
It seemed most fitting that I was scheduled to see the revivals of Gypsy and Long Day's Journey Into Night on succeeding evenings -- one a great musical, the other a great drama. My booking for the O'Neill saga at the Plymouth went off without a hitch and I was happy to report that the tragic Tyrones were as riveting as ever, especially given the revival's superb cast. (see review).

But a live production isn't like a film which, once "in the can " locks the actors locked into their role no matter where or when the film is viewed A play or musical may be declared "frozen" and ready for critical evaluation, but the very term live performance makes a show subject to the unexpected. In the case of the much anticipated third Broadway revival of Arthur Laurents', Jules Styne's and Stephen Sondheim's brilliant collaboration, a respiratory infection temporarily left a star vehicle without a star.

The rumor mill, which had already been abuzz with speculation about Bernadette Peters not being up to the demands of playing Gypsy's Madame Rose, went into overtime mode and my second night press date was postponed until thirteen days after the May 1st . (the terms first and second nighters are something of a misnomer already since the first round of reviews tend to be based on seeing a show up to a week before the opening, while the second night reviews are often based on performances seen as much as six days after the opening night).

To get to the point of this lengthy explanation for my late review: All's well. Even without Peters to make her entrance strutting down the aisle to famously prompt the little girl on stage to "Sing out, Louise!" Gypsy retains all the flair that keep it at the top of any Best Ever Musical theater list. . Its book is built around an ever absorbing story that transcend the immediate circumstances of a life hungry woman's struggle to escape a go-nowhere, be-nobody existence but who hitches her dream to a subset of show business -- vaudeville -- that is itself at a dead end. The lyrics not only move the action forward but are in themselves exquisitely crafted character builders. The music soars melodically and begs to be heard again.

Bernadette Peters, like the character she plays, has survived her physical setback and is back on stage giving the performance of her career. Contrary to Gertrude Stein's mantra "a rose is a rose, is a rose", Ms Peter's Rose is not just another rose in a lineup of roses trying to fill the shoes of Ethel Merman for whom the show was written. (Angela Lansbury, Tyne Daly and Betty Buckley are among the best known post-Merman Roses). Instead she's abandoned her trademark big hair for a tight marcel wave and her pout for a determined thrust of the chin. With her porcelain complexion powdered to a mask-like white and matronly period dresses and cloche hats she almost looks her age (55), but that doesn't keep her from being the sexiest Mama Rose you're likely to have seen -- as well as the most multi-dimensional and emotionally moving.

The fact that Peters is a more petite, and, at least at first glance, a loving and ever resourceful cheerleader (her pep talk to untalented youngsters: "If you have a good, strong finish, they'll forgive you for anything!") intensifies the scene-by-scene, song-by-song revelations of the neurotic drive that powers Rose Hovick's star-making enterprise. Don't let the difference in Peters' persona or having Sam Mendes directing the show fool you into thinking that he's re-engineered Gypsy as he so successfully did Kander and Ebb's Cabaret. The Mendes imprint is mainly evident in the simpler, more contemporary style that shows everything about Rose's life to be cut from the same cloth; in short, all the show's a stage -- with beds, desks and other furnishings wheeled out and away like so many props, making the off-stage scenes an apt counter image of the unreal, un-homelike existence to which Rose subjects herself and her children.

Heather Tepe as   Little June and Addison Timlin as Baby Louise
Heather Tepe as Little June and Addison Timlin as Baby Louise
(Photo: Joan Marcus)
Despite the relative spareness of this Gypsy, the direction and performances bring out all its humor and verve as well as the pathos. While remaining true to the original Jerome Robbins choreography, Jerry Mitchell has smartly expanded the Little June and Dainty June numbers. The dancing horse, half of which is inhabited by the untalented and neglected Baby Louise (Addison Timlin) is telling symbol for Rose's treatment of her older daughter it is also as delightful as Milky Way in the recent revival of Into the Woods (Review). The number in which Baby Jane and her fellow kid hoofers eye-poppingly metamorphose into teen-agers doing the same thing (the sameness to which Rose and other vaudevillians so desperately cling) also showcases the always remarkable lighting of Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer. Rose's penchant for egg rolls has one land pie-in-the-face style in Mr. Goldstone's (Brooks Ashmanskas) mouth. With The three strippers to educate Louise about the requirements for success in burlesque inventively outfitted by the multi-faceted Anthony Ward and played by Heather Lee (as Tessie Tura), Kate Buddeke (as Mazeppa) and Julie Halston (as the zonked out, literally electrified Electra), the show-stopping "You Gotta Get a Gimmick" is outrageously funny.

As Sondheim's lyrics so gorgeously put it, everything about Gypsy generally and this Gypsy in particular "is coming up roses" -- from the rousing overture (the last time, thanks to recent union negotions, you're likely to hear a two dozen players strong live orchestra), to the rousing finale of each act.

While Rose is the musical's pivotal character (The title is in deference to Rose's older daughter Gypsy Rose Lee, from whose memoir Arthur Laurent fashioned his own version of hers and her sister June's youth on the dying vaudeville circuit), Gypsy's claim to greatness is no small measure due to its rich cast of other characters, with even minor players delivering major pleasures -- and some doing so by doubling up on roles. Julie Halston, for example, is an incomparable, Electra, but also briskly effective as the sarcastic secretary. Miss Cratchitt, and. in an even tinier bit as a stage mother in the opening scene. David Burtka not only makes the most of his wannabe Fred Astaire solo, "All I Need Is a Girl", but does double duty as part of the ensemble.

John Dossett as  Herbie
John Dossett as Herbie
(Photo: Joan Marcus)
The sexual charisma of Ms. Peters' Rose is made doubly convincing by John Dossett who brings charm as well as a fine voice to the role of Herbie. He is utterly appealing as a man smart enough to give up being a vaudeville booking agent for a flourishing candy business who becomes so besotted by the woman who struck him as "a pioneer woman without a frontier" that he is seduced back into the business. The sexual chemistry between Dossett and Peters goes both ways, even though in the end her dream at any cost sends him out of her life.

The show's enduring stage mother theme is also quite specifically timely. Rose may be the most frightening stage mother ever, but Heather Tepe's Baby Jane, besides being hilarious in the " Let Me Entertain You" sister act, is even more scary courtesy of her all-too timely resemblance to the ill-fated toddler beauty contestant Jon Benet Ramsay.

Tammy Blanchard
Tammy Blanchard transformed into Miss Gypsy Rose Lee
(Photo: Joan Marcus)
As for the stage stand-in for the author whose memoir is credited as Laurents' source, Tammy Blanchard is believable as the gangly Louise. She transitions with just enough hesitancy and awkwardness into the woman who became Miss Gypsy Rose Lee, the creation of the indomitable mother, but her own person at last.

The heart-stopping "Rose's Turn" that precedes the reversal of the mother-daughter dynamic brings me back to my opening comments about the reasons for my delayed review. While "Rose's Turn" and the "Everything's Coming Up Roses" solos are a push for Ms. Peter's voice that somehow adds to the poignancy of her character's never-ending determination, making that push eight times a week is clearly a risky business for her vocal chords. Feedback from readers who caught understudy Maureen Moore indicates that they did not feel short changed. Ms. Peter's high caliber performances would benefit from letting Ms. Moore take over the matinees and inviting reviewers to evaluate both Madame Roses. While Peters is the star most audiences want to see, the indestructible star of this or any production is the show itself. No gimmicks. Just the fortuitous combination of a super-talented creative team coming together at the right time.

Gypsy, suggested by the Memoir of Gypsy Rose Lee
Book by
Music and lyrics by
Book by Arthur Laurents
Music by Jule Styne
Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Musical Director: Marvin Laird Directed by Sam Mendes
Music Direction by Marvin Laird
Choreographed by Jerome Robbins; Additional choreography by Jerry Mitchell
Associate Director: Peter Lawrence
Associate Choreographer: Jodi Moccia.
Cast: Bernadette Peters/ Rose; Tammy Blanchard/ Louise; John Dossett/ Herbie; Brooks Ashmanskas/ Mr. Goldstone, Pastey; Matt Bauer/ Yonkers, Farm Boy, Ensemble; Graham Bowen/ Swing; Kate Buddeke/ Mazeppa; David Burtka/ Tulsa, Coco, Chowsie; Benjamin Brooks/ Cohen, Kansas, Farm Boy, Ensemble; MacIntyre Dixon/ Weber, Phil, Ensemble; Joey Dudding/Farm Boy, Ensemble; Wally Dunn/ Swing; Brandon Espinoza/ L.A., Farm Boy, Ensemble; Tim Federle/Farm Boy; Eamon Foley/Newsboy, Ensemble; Jenna Gavigan/Hollywood Blonde, Ensemble; Julie Halston/ Miss Cratchitt, Electra; Sarah Jayne Jensen/ Hollywood Blonde, Ensemble, Cow; Molly Grant Kallins/Balloon Girl, Ensemble; Dontee Kiehn/ Hollywood Blonde, Ensemble, Cow; Ginifer King/Hollywood Blonde, Ensemble; Gina Lamparella Ensemble; Heather Lee/Tessie Tura; Julie Martell/Hollywood Blonde, Ensemble; Michael McCormick/ Uncle Jocko, Cigar; William Parry/ Pop Kringelein; Kate Reinders/ June; Pamela Remler/ Swing; Stephen Scott Scarpulla/ Clarence (and his classic clarinet), Newsboy, Ensemble; Chandra Lee Schwartz/Agnes,Hollywood Blonde, Ensemble; Heather Tepe/Baby June; Addison Timlin/Baby Louise; Cathy Trien/ Rene, Ensemble; Jordan Viscomi/Newsboy, Ensemble
Scenic and CostumeDesign: Anthony Ward
Lighting Design: Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer
Sound Design: Acme Sound Partners
Hair Design: David Brian Brown
Animals: William Berloni
Dance Arrangements: John Kander
Musical Supervisor: Patrick Vaccariello
Orchestrations: Sid Ramin & Robert Ginzler
Musical Coordinator: Michael Keller
Gypsy Orchestra -- Conductor: Marvin Laird; Associate Conductor and Piano : Ethyl Will
Additional orchestrations by Bruce Coughlin. Concertmaster: Ann Labin; Violins: Maura Giannini, Dana Ianculovici; Viola: Richard Brice; Cellos: Peter Prosser, Eileen Folson; Harp: Grace Paradise; Lead Trumpet: Chris Jaudes; Trumpets: Larry Lunetta, Hollis Burridge; Trombones: Bruce Eidem, Michael Seltzer; Bass Trombone: Morris Kainuma; French Horn: Roger Wendt; Reeds: Dennis Anderson, Mort Silver, Ralph Olsen, Charles Pillow, Ron Janelli; Drums: Cubby O'Brien; Bass: Bill Ellison; Percussion: Deane Prouty.
Running Time: 3 hours, including one 15 minute intermission. Shubert, 225 W. 44th St. (Broadway/Eighth Avenue) 212/239-6200
Monday through Saturday at 8 PM, Wednesday and Saturday at 2 PM
Orchestra $101.25, Mezzanine Rows A-G $101.25, Mezzanine Rows H-K $86.25, Balcony Rows A-F $76.25, Balcony Rows G-J $66.25. Wednesday Matinees Orchestra $96.25, Mezzanine Rows A-G $96.25, Mezzanine Rows H-K $81.25, Balcony Rows A-F $71.25, Balcony Rows G-J $61.25.From 3/31/03; opening 5/01/03.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on May 7th press performance
Closing 2/28/04 -- a reprive-- and then announcement of final announcement to 5/30/04 closing.

Musical Numbers
Act One
  • May We Entertain You/ Baby June and Baby Louise
  • Some People/ Rose
  • Travelling/ Rose
  • Small World/ Rose and Herbie
  • Baby June and Her Newsboys / Baby June, Baby Louise and Newsboys
  • Mr. Goldstone, I Love You/ Rose.and Ensemble
  • Little Lamb/ Louise
  • You'll Never Get Away From Me/ Rose and Herbie
  • Dainty June and Her Farmboys/ Dainty June, Louise 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
  • Madame Rose's Toreadorables / Louise and the Hollywood Blondes
  • Together, Wherever We Go / Rose, Louise and Herbie
  • You Gotta Get a Gimmick / Tessie Tura, Mazeppa and Electra
  • Small World (reprise)/ Rose
  • Let Me Entertain You/ Louise and Company
  • Rose's Tur/n Rose

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