Friday, March 28, 2008

Critics On Gypsy: Everything (Almost) Comes Up Roses

Critics On Gypsy: Everything (Almost) Comes Up Roses

Last night, Arthur Laurents' miracle on 44th Street opened at Broadway's St. James Theatre.

As one of Gypsy's original creators -- a half century ago, he wrote the show's book alongside Jule Styne and Stephen Sondheim, who together wrote the score -- he now takes the helm in this fourth Rialto revival that stars Patti LuPone, Laura Benanti and Boyd Gaines. The praise was mostly unequivocal, yet there were at least a couple dissents.

Raving that this Gypsy is "this one that has definitive written all over it," Bloomberg's John Simon, who has seen each Broadway incarnation including the original could not be more effusive: "No matter how many times you've seen Gypsy, you arguably haven't experienced it as fully as you may now on Broadway at the St. James Theatre.... As director, Laurents has made some fussy changes of no great import, at least not lessening the overall impact. His not uninteresting effort is to heighten realism into expressionism.... But then how deftly LuPone makes Rose exude vulgarity without jeopardizing our basic sympathy; how touchingly Gaines underplays his leading-man dazzle for the most likable Herbie ever; how compellingly Benanti handles shy duckling Louise's transfiguration into Gypsy's preening swan."

Almost gleefully admitting "that quiet crunching sound you hear is me eating my hat," The New York Times' Ben Brantley offers a flat-out rave: "[W]hen Ms. LuPone is truly focused, she’s a laser, she incinerates. Especially when she’s playing someone as dangerously obsessed as Momma Rose in the wallop-packing revival of the musical Gypsy.... its raw power should be enough to silence any naysayers (myself included).... The 90-year-old Mr. Laurents, who directed two earlier revivals of Gypsy...has had nearly half a century to ponder characters he helped bring to life. The accumulation of decades seems only to have sharpened his vision of the fractured family at the show’s center.”

Essentially admitting that only a critic could complain, New York Post's Clive Barnes offers three and a half out of four stars: "In truth, no one was ever born to do anything -- except bawl their lungs out -- but Patti LuPone comes pretty damn close as Momma Rose in Jule Styne's Gypsy.... In her case, that 'gimmick' is an unassailable talent and showbiz genius. She brought both to the St. James Theatre last night.... And though this essentially modest production has the lingering scent of a summer stockpot, its virtues are such that few will care.... What's special about LuPone is the unexpected shading and nuance -- brassy one moment, grotesque the next, then pathetic, even tragic."

Concluding that LuPone is "beyond sturdy, she's beyond dreams," Joe Dziemianowicz of New York's Daily News also showers laurels on the musical: "The show is sharper since then and seeing it again reinforces what we already know -- the score by Stephen Sondheim and Jule Styne is tuneful beyond belief and the story by Arthur Laurents is word-perfect.... LuPone, with her big personality, broad background ... and dynamic voice, is a natural to play the human bulldozer who drives daughters June and Louise toward vaudeville stardom at any cost. Under Laurents' savvy direction, she captures Rose's monstrous ferocity (body-checking Uncle Jocko, bullying everybody, even beating up on drapes) and her vulnerability, which peeks out humorously in 'Small World' and gushes poignantly in her finale, 'Rose's Turn.'"

Calling this revival "campy and clamorous, by turns brighter and less buoyant" than its summer 2007 precursor, USA Today's Elysa Gardner offers a three-star review: "In that production, LuPone lent a disarming tenderness to Mama Rose, disappointing some critics who view the role as a test for an actress's drama-queen aptitude.... Her epiphany, 'Rose's Turn,' is staged as a musical nervous breakdown, at once over-the-top and frighteningly convincing. Other performances also blend high-octane razzle-dazzle with a sort of hyper-naturalism."

Proving to be the party-pooper, asking "If only everyone would relax," Newsday's Linda Winer offers a mixed review: "What defined her Rose last summer, however, was a marvelous new vulnerability and charm.... Missing now, inexplicably, is that sense of fun, an allure that went a long way toward explaining why Herbie and all the unpaid kids in her pathetic act would put up with her. We still get the ferocity of Rose's restless hunger, but LuPone has toughened her earlier uninhibited sexuality into something harder and less interesting."

Noting that LuPone "gives and gives and gives until the only sensible response is to beg for no more," Eric Grode of The New York Sun also pooh-poohs: "In one of the more puzzling and dispiriting developments to reach Broadway in some time, Arthur Laurents's staging of the acid-etched 1959 valentine to show business has managed to shed nearly everything that made its previous iteration -- a keenly anticipated three-week run last summer at City Center -- so cherished. That production, notable for finally unleashing Patti LuPone in the role of the comparably formidable Mama Rose, has grown in every possible direction -- and not in a good way.

So there you have it folks -- mostly raves from the critics whose notices typically mean the most and a couple mixed-to-negative reviews. After foregoing last summer's City Center Encores! presentation (I magnanimously decided to give others a chance to see LuPone after catching her original Chicagoland Ravinia turn), I'll be in the audience in a couple days and will offer my SOB Review shortly thereafter.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

Click here for tickets.
Related Stories:
Gypsy: Everything's Coming Up Opening Night (March 27, 2008)
Patti Preview: "Brought Down The Roof" .... Literally? (March 4, 2008)
Curtain Up! Light The Lights! (March 3, 2008)
Load-In's Turn (February 24, 2008)
Tag, I'm It! (February 4, 2008)
Laurents' Turn: First Gypsy, Then West Side Story (December 18, 2008)
LuPone's Mama Rose, Part 3? (October 3, 2007)
At 90, Laurents Has Still "Got It" (July 27, 2007)
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) (August 14, 2006)

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At 31 March, 2008, Anonymous BroadwayBaby said...

Having seen it, I'm now betting that Gypsy will trump "Sunday" for best revival. Even though I would count the Sunday In the Park revival (London production) among my 5 best theatrical experiences of all time, I have to say that Gypsy with Patti has to be the most exciting night I ever spent in the theatre. The entire production blew me away and while I have seen several Gypsy productions previously (including the last revival with Bernadette), this is the only production that convinced me that Gypsy is truly the BEST musical ever created. I have never been so blown away by a production...I'm still reeling from the shock!!!

At 31 March, 2008, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Without revealing too much (SOB Review is coming soon), I agree that Gypsy is the revival to beat.


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