Monday, August 14, 2006
Gypsy (The SOB Review) – Ravinia Festival, Highland Park, IL
***1/2 (out of ****)
It seems entirely apropos that a concert version of Stephen Sondheim’s seminal classic Gypsy -- co-written, of course, by Jule Styne and Arthur Laurents -- would be stripped down to the basic essentials. But with theatre legend Patti LuPone in the lead role of Mama Rose, this Gypsy proved to be anything but bare. Instead of an over-the-top Mama that's all too easy to do, LuPone proffered an exquisitely nuanced performance that simultaneously excited and repulsed, making one of Broadway’s most memorable roles hers for keeps.
Backed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, this Gypsy benefitted from absolutely lush and powerful orchestrations. Yet, this Gypsy still managed to be fairly standard fare with a straight-ahead retelling quite befitting the concert motif. Indeed, director Lonny Price and choreographer Bonnie Walker provided only minor deviations from previous incarnations of the tuner. By not breaking any new ground -- save for a glittery full-frontal from Jessica Boevers' very adult Gypsy Rose Lee (OK, Boevers was in a body stocking with sequins adorning key private parts) and a truly schlumpy Herbie (Jack Willis making this doormat of a character the most believable I've seen yet) -- the concert further enabled LuPone to command the stage without overpowering it.
Fortunately, most of the cast recognized that they were part of a magical event, and they were on their game complementing LuPone. Both "Baby" and adult versions of June were enchanting thanks to Ashton Smalling and Jen Temen. Actresses Derin Altay, Jane Blass and Debra Watassek as Electra, Mazeppa and Tessie Tura, respectively, provided just the right blend of comical flair necessary to allow Boevers’ Louise to blossom with the grace of a lady Rose implores her to be.
Near the end, LuPone took her devastated Rose to new heights with an unforgettable, heart-wrenched rendering of “Rose’s Turn,” which proved to be, quite literally, a showstopper of the first order. A most affectionate audience interrupted with a long, sustained standing ovation.
LuPone has been making Ravinia -- and Sondheim, for that matter -- her own over the past ten years. Given how mesmerizing her performance was in Gypsy, it seems a shame that just three audiences had the pleasure of seeing LuPone’s Mama Rose shine last weekend. Sadly, only two years have passed since Gypsy's last Broadway revival with Bernadette Peters. But when (not if) the time comes to bring Gypsy back to the Great White Way, savvy producers should do everything they can to lure Patti LuPone back to the role she was born to play.
This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).