Monday, July 16, 2007

Did Gypsy Entertain Critics?

Did Gypsy Entertain Critics?

On Saturday evening, the highly anticipated New York City Center's Encores! Summer Stars production of the Arthur Laurents-helmed Gypsy opened. Of course, it has made headlines because Patti LuPone is in the role she was born to play: Mama Rose. Nearly every critic came up roses, too.

Proclaiming "Ms. LuPone could and should be a Rose for the ages," The New York Sun's Eric Grode is nearly ecstatic: "Hold your hats and say hallelujah. Patti LuPone has finally been allowed to show it to ya....Ms. LuPone has a healthy dose of Merman's legendary vitality: Notes linger in the air with a sort of sculpted robustness, and she knows how to take ownership of the huge City Center stage with a minimum of extraneous movement."

Labeling this production "galvanizing" in his three-and-a-half star review, Frank Scheck offers high praise: "When this indomitable actress finished her tour de force rendition of 'Rose's Turn,' the audience rose for a spontaneous standing ovation. LuPone acknowledged the applause fully in character as the self-aggrandizing Mama Rose, bowing floridly and in effect incorporating us into her character's elaborate fantasy....LuPone, as might be imagined, is a powerhouse in the role, singing the hell out of the classic Styne/Sondheim score and giving a portrayal that easily ranks as one of the best Roses ever."

Saying that Patti LuPone is proof that "we're living in a golden age for singing actresses," Newsday's Linda Winer is effusive: "The idea that someone was 'born to play' a character sounds like hyped-up old nonsense -- until, that is, Patti LuPone grabs the cliche in her bared teeth and scares the banalities away as Mama Rose in Gypsy....Statistically speaking, we appear to have no need for another Gypsy. But now we do.We do because of LuPone, because of the smarts she brings to Jule Styne's brassy-bravura music and Stephen Sondheim's wrenching and dazzling lyrics."

With the line that it's "as close to perfection as anything you'll see on any stage this summer," Joe Dziemianowicz of New York's Daily News is clearly dazzled: "Whether Patti LuPone was destined to play the steam-rolling Rose who pushes her daughters to be famous in the 1920s and '30s, who knows? But she's mesmerizing singing and acting the role created in 1959 by Ethel Merman. LuPone's work never feels like a performance. From the first line, 'Sing out, Louise,' to her final knockout number, 'Rose's Turn,' she creates a Rose you can relate to and empathize with."

Calling the production "entertaining but unenthralling," Ben Brantley of The New York Times once again proves that there's just no pleasing him: "Ms. LuPone does not, for once, feel like an unstoppable force. As Rose, the child-flattening maternal steamroller with Broadway dreams, she seems to be still fiddling with the gears and looking over her shoulder when she needs to be plowing full speed ahead with blinders on....I suspect there’s still a first-rate Momma Rose waiting to emerge. For the moment we only have the preliminary sketch. Any halfway decent Gypsy -- and this one is more than that -- is a fine summer night’s diversion. But it needs a Momma Rose in full control to carry its audiences away."

Brantley notwithstanding, it's official: Gypsy has been annointed the theatrical event of the summer. With all these huzzahs, could a Broadway turn be in the offing?

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

Click here for tickets.
Related Stories:
Everything's Coming Up Patti! (July 9, 2007)
SOB's Best Of 2006-07: Top Ten Of The Year (June 4, 2007)
SOB's Best Of 2006-07: Best Revivals Of Musicals (May 18, 2007)
It's Official: LuPone's Triumph Earns Encores! (March 19, 2007)
Will Encores Mount All-Star Gypsy? (March 2, 2007)
SOB's 6 Singular Sensations Of '06 - #1: Patti LuPone (December 30, 2006)
Gypsy (The SOB Review) – Ravinia Festival, Highland Park, IL (August 14, 2006)

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At 16 July, 2007, Blogger Jeffrey Cufaude said...

If I remember right, Brantley was pretty enthralled with Bernadette as Mama Rose. Maybe he can't let go of her in that role. Seeing it next week so I'll have my own take after that.

At 17 July, 2007, Blogger E said...

Ok. I saw this show last week. To be perfectly honest, I thought it was one of the most thrilling experiences I've ever had in a theater.

There is not one single weak link in the cast. The direction was flawless. I laughed, I wept, I jumped to my feet in ovation during the performance. The "Gotta Get a Gimmick" strippers killed me (in a good way), Boyd Gaines was The Perfect Herbie, and June and Louise were absolutely fabulous. I even liked Tony Yazbek as Tulsa, a role (and song) that I have always found superfluous in previous productions.

I know that to play Mama Rose is to open one's self up to some pretty amazing comparisons. And everyone has their own favorite Rose.


Patti LuPone has created a Mama Rose that is (finally!) maternal, animalistic, sensual, desperate, and admirable. A natural powerhouse, LuPone has woven an extraordinary tapestry of emotion and..well, sheer force so that I was completely and utterly riveted to every single thing she said or sung - as were the other two thousand people in the theater. At the end of Act One, she becomes completely (and appropriately) unhinged during "Everything's Comin' Up Roses," leaving you to wonder what's in store for "Rose's Turn."

LuPone's "Rose's Turn" quite simply brought the entire audience to their feet. It was visceral, hungry, and spot on. I mean, for the final "FOR MEEEEE!" she basically bends over backwards and (as a friend put it) reaches into the depths of her body to push out a phrase of unspeakable need, anger, will, and disappointment.

And it didn't stop there: she took a very Norma Desmond-like fake curtain call, presumably to an empty auditorium, yet we were all on our feet, screaming. It was breathtaking. And there is something she does in the "reconciliation" moment with Louise that I do not imagine that ANY Rose has done in the past. It was special, and unique, and I'm really curious to see if any of your readers pick it up.

"Gypsy" has long been regarded as the Most Perfect Broadway Musical. I posit that this is the best version of it that has ever been done.

So. Those are my two cents. : )

At 17 July, 2007, Blogger E said...

An addendum to my previous statement:

I'm told by a friend "in the know" that there were problems with the second act. On the final rehearsal before their first preview, the entire cast sat back down at the table with the director, and just hashed it out. They didn't run the show or anything...they just sat down and ironed out the kinks. They fought and argued and worked and guess what...?

The scenework in act two is breathtaking.

At 17 July, 2007, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Jeffrey - I saw Bernadette Peters as Mama Rose, and as exceptional as I thought she was, no one portrayed the role better (in my humble opinion) than Patti LuPone. Hope you enjoy and please share your experience.

At 17 July, 2007, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Erik - Thanks for sharing your experience. I got the chills reading comments, especially the part where you discuss how she belted out the final line of "Rose's Turn." Made me relive the moment for myself.

At 26 July, 2007, Anonymous Esther said...

Well, this was my first time seeing Gypsy and my first time seeing Patti LuPone on stage. I'd actually been a fan of hers from the tv series Life Goes On, and really didn't know her at all as a singer. So it was quite a revelation.

My jaw just dropped during "Everything's Comin Up Roses." I totally agree with E. What a thrilling experience. I think I even held my breath for a few seconds. I've certainly never heard anything as amazing in my short theatergoing career. I turned to the man sitting next to me and I said, wow, that was unbelievable. He said, just wait! And then, "Rose's Turn." It was the first time I've ever witnessed a standing ovation for a song. And the applause was thunderous.

The strippers were hilarious. Laura Benanti was superb as Louise. I knew that Patti would be amazing, but I didn't know at all what to expect from Laura. The way she transformed herself from a gawky teenager to a glamorous entertainer was incredible. What talent! And I felt so much sympathy for Boyd Gaines as the long-suffering Herbie.

But Patti is just a force of nature from the very beginning, when she comes marching down the aisle of the theater and onto the stage.

Seeing her afterward, she's not really a large woman, but she seemed larger than life, just so singleminded and driven, a woman who simply cannot see how she's alienating everyone who loves her. She was scary and sad, just a tragic figure. It's really an epic role and an epic performance and I'm so glad I saw it.

And best of all, I was sitting across the aisle from Marian Seldes, who was so sweet and gracious when I told her that I enjoyed Deuce. What a wonderful lady.


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