Tuesday, March 18, 2008

LuPone Triumphs as New Queen of the “Gypsy’s”

One of the most famous backstage musicals of all time, “Gypsy,” is back on Broadway again. After two relatively recent revivals starring Tyne Daly and Bernadette Peters (the latter only a few years ago), I wondered why anyone would want to bring it back so soon. Is there really anything about “Gypsy” we haven’t seen yet? What could possibly justify another “New” Broadway revival? Well, after seeing the show last night at the St. James Theater, I fully understand why.

Watching this production of “Gypsy” is like seeing the show with new glasses. Truth to tell, I’ve never actually seen a LIVE stage production of “Gypsy.” I’ve seen the movie many times, as well as the Bette Midler television adaptation in the 1990s, so I’m pretty familiar with the material. But this production seems infused with a new energy and life, particularly because of its two leading ladies, Patti LuPone and Laura Benanti.

The energetic powerhouse that is Patti LuPone is used to maximum effectiveness here. As the show’s central character, Mama Rose, she is loud, brassy, funny, playful, arrogant, desperate, pushy—yet always in control. Every time she is on stage, you can’t help but watch her. Even when she is only walking by in the background during a Baby June song, she nearly steals the scene. Miss LuPone inhabits this role like no one else before her. Not that other people haven’t played the part well, but there is something so natural and effortless in Miss LuPone’s performance, that you feel like you might be watching Mama Rose herself.

To me, the most incredible moment comes near the very end of the show. Gypsy has already established herself as the Queen of Burlesque, and Rose no longer feels wanted or needed. The result is one of the most brilliant swan songs ever written, “Rose’s Turn,” in which she basically laments her life. This song is a favorite among musical theater lovers and has been sung by nearly every female Diva in the world at some point in their careers. It is tour de force musical tirade, which Miss LuPone infuses with every fiber of her being. The song is electrifying to watch, as goosebumps trail up and down your arm. You know you are witnessing something very special—the perfect melding of star and song. Several audience members spontaneously stood up at the end and gave her an ovation, and I can see why. It was truly remarkable.

But that wasn’t even the “incredible moment” I was referring to. My favorite “moment” comes shortly after the aforementioned show-stopping "Rose's Turn" number. Gypsy finds her mother onstage, and asks her why she worked and pushed so hard for all those years---who was she really doing it for? Rose always claimed she was doing it for her kids, to give them a better life. But in one overwhelming and painfully raw moment of insight, she finally realizes her drive was motivated by her own desires rather than her children's welfare. Her realization and subsequent breakdown is a moment I will never forget. It was so human and real. Absolutely incredible!

The evening also had a feeling of heightened electricity because the audience was filled with other Broadway actors, who spent their Monday night off watching someone else’s show. David Hyde Pierce (of “Curtains”) and his partner were sitting right across the aisle from me, and the lobby was filled with many other famous faces from the New York theater scene. During the show, you could hear a pin drop; that’s how riveting it was. And though I’ve had the opportunity many times over the years to see “Gypsy” LIVE, I’m glad I waited until this production to actually take the plunge.

For anyone who loves theater, this “Gypsy” is definitely worth the trip!

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