New York City Theater
St. James Theatre, Broadway
The trouble with revivals is that ghosts of the past hang heavily over the current performers. This time around, in the Broadway revival of “Gypsy,” Patti Lupone joins a long line of Madam Roses and is haunted by the likes of Ethel Merman, Angela Lansbury, Rosalind Russell, Tyne Daly, Bernadette Peters. But, as it turns out, everything’s coming up roses for this Momma Rose. Lupone holds her own with the best of them.
It is the role Patti Lupone, now in the full ripeness of her career, was born to play. Lupone gives a powerhouse performance, creating a memorable character defined by strengths and weaknesses. Here is a woman in the grip of a powerful dream, determined to make her younger daughter, her “Baby June,” a star. Never mind that there is no money to foster this career. Never mind that her older daughter Louise is sadly neglected. Never mind that her children never get a formal education. Never mind that the acts she creates for June and company are tacky in the extreme. Never mind that vaudeville is on the way out. Momma Rose never gives up. Lupone combines Rose’s grit, determination, desperation all in one searing characterization.
It is Lupone all the way, but she is ably supported by Laura Benanti in the title role, as she evolves from the sad, needy little girl to an independent young woman. And that Louise, as we know in real life, becomes the famed stripper, Gypsy Rose Lee. Benanti, once changed from ugly duckling to swan, is delicious. It is an all-round competent cast, with the excellent Boyd Gaines playing Rose’s love interest, and with Leigh Ann Larkin, Sami Gayle, and Emma Rowley playing Rose’s two girls at various ages.
Lupone is also aided by the material itself of this flawless 1959 musical which went on to make Broadway history. In its many incarnations, the show has indeed worn well. Who can resist the Stephen Sondheim lyrics, Jule Styne music, and Arthur Laurents book? Laurents himself has come back to direct this revival, which is all to the good, but, fortunately, he has remained true to the show’s original intent. And the glorious songs, among them “May We Entertain You,” “Small World,” “If Momma Was Married,” have remained intact.
“Gypsy” is a show with a glorious past history, but it is Patti Lupone’s turn now.
Mar. 28, 2008