Monday, August 14, 2006

Gypsy (The SOB Review) – Ravinia Festival, Highland Park, IL

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).

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At 14 August, 2006, Blogger BroadwayBaby said...

Rumor has it that the reason Patti has not played Gypsy on Broadway is because Arthur Laurents hates her and has so far nixed the idea.

As far as I'm concerned, Patti is the only person alive who can do the role of Mama Rose justice both vocally and artistically.

At 14 August, 2006, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

How tragic that would be if really true. Patti LuPone was perfect in this role.

At 15 August, 2006, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

By the way, it should be noted that Derin Altay who wowed as Electra was a replacement in the role of Eva Peron in the original Broadway production of Evita.

At 16 August, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lovely review -- sorry I missed meeting you there! It was a weekend to remember...

At 17 August, 2006, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Litwit - the way the blogosphere and regular reviews have dovetailed over the past week, it appears that we were treated to the first real historical theatrical event of this decade. Glad we'll both have something to talk about for years to come!

At 24 May, 2007, Blogger Bob said...

Hey - I just found this review!

Lovely. But, I'm here to tell you, that from my front-row seat, Boevers was definately NOT wearing any boding stocking of any sort....which I found quite daring of her.

At 24 May, 2007, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...


Thanks for sharing Boevers' intimates details (or lack thereof). Guess I made a very incorrect assumption. Of course, I remember how she sparkled.



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