Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Gypsy, back to Broadway.

After her smash success at City Center Encores the brassy and inimitable Patti LuPone is headed to Broadway in the role everyone says she was born to play, Mama Rose in Gypsy. It's a risky move. The last revival on Broadway starring a cast against type Bernadette Peters was hardly a smash and despite being a Broadway star LuPone's name is far less marketable for the tourist hoi polloi. Buoyed no doubt by mostly rave reviews for it's star, save a notable exception by the Times' Ben Brantley, Gypsy will grace the Great White for it's fifth incarnation the fourth of which premiered within this decade. Having seen both LuPone and Peters (but none of the other Broadway Mamas) I can assertively say that Peters gave the more memorable interpretation. LuPone sang the role with more gusto and panache then anyone since the Merm herself (in fact, LuPone's Broadway outing necessitates a new cast album-the first must-have recording since the original) but her acting in the book scenes sometimes fell flat. I felt her deadpan Mrs. Lovett, a delicious creation for that shows aesthetic, was bleeding over into her Mama. Peters wasn't wholly satisfying as Mama either, perhaps pushing the character too far into vulnerability. At times Peters appeared adrift in her songs, flailing her arms with unfocused emotion and straining for notes. But, the specificity and originality of Bernadette eventually won me over, the performances flaws being an unchangeable extension of the vary aspects of the performance that I enjoyed. There was some Schadenfreude in the theatre community towards Bernadette for missing many performances (especially early on) and for getting the part over Patti LuPone in the first place. This climaxed in the shocking win of Marisa Janet Winokour for the Tony prompting Bernadette to, rumor has it, walk out of the ceremony before it was finished. With Patti, it's all love all the time. Well, Gypsy is more than it's star and the production staged this past summer definitely needs some sprucing up before it can play the Great White Way. The sets, staging and costumes of the City Center production were redolent of summer stock and although it featured two amazing supporting actors as Lousia and Herbie (Laura Benanti and Boyd Gaines respectively) other cast members did not fair as well. Worst of all was director, and bitchy queen for the ages (I think he's a musical theatre legend but, let's be honest here!), Arthur Laurents' unceremonious comments about Sam Mendes' direction of the Bernadette revival. These were particularly egregious since, from a directorial point of view, Mendes' production was far superior and polished. While Gypsy was never the kind of show prone to conceptual re-imagining (like Cabaret was), Mendes nevertheless cleaned up and made fresh this old warhorse for the 21st century. His touches were subtle but exceedingly missed this past summer. Still, I hope the show does well (it's perhaps the greatest musical ever) and garners LuPone her second Tony, which given her reception the night I saw the show, should be no problem for the diva. As for me, I am just thrilled to buy the cast album. Here is some back to back pick your own favorite.

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