New York: Gypsy

There is a big nostalgia factor involved with revivals. You get to relive moments you love, and new and young theatre-goers get to experience them for the first time. But sometimes instead of reliving the love of a musical, you find your tastes have changed, and you’re left rather cold. This was my experience seeing the current revival of Gypsy. Gypsy is one of those musicals I’ve loved since I knew what a musical was. Many people claim it as their favorite. But when seeing it staged live, I just couldn’t figure out why. It feels like a museum piece. There are so many moments in this musical that always feel exactly the same, no matter where you are seeing it. I go to a theatre to be surprised and delighted. When I’ve seen Gypsy live recently, this never happens. Part of this is inherent in the production itself, as it deals with vaudeville and part of the comedy comes from the repetitive awfulness of June’s act. But the characters and situations need to feel fresh and real, and in the current Broadway revival, they just don’t.

Arthur Laurents seems to have directed the cast to always play for the comedy. As a result the production is too broad, at the expense of the humanity of the characters. Most guilty of this is Boyd Gaines as Herbie, who at one point does a full body shakedown after receiving a “come hither” look from Rose. Funny? Maybe. Real? Not at all.

Patti LuPone also has a tendency to play too broad and come on too strong. Granted, Mama Rose should be big, she should be theatrical, and she should be a force of nature. LuPone gets all that wonderfully. But there is nothing else. No quiet moments, no revelations of the soul. This Mama Rose doesn’t appear to have actually learned anything or changed at all by the end of the musical.

There are some nice moments of playfulness between the three leads, particularly in “Together Wherever We Go,” but on the whole Arthur Laurents directs them to lay it on with a trowel. In the scene where Herbie and Rose first meet, instead of being touching and cute, the attraction between the two of them is practically spelled out for the audience.

Laura Benanti as Louise is, however, wonderful. She manages to hold her own against LuPone all the while creating a character that is relatable and natural. There is a theatricality inherent in these characters, but Benanti is the only one that still manages to be believable. She hits all the right notes in her transition from awkward duckling into self-possessed glamorous stripper. Her young counterpart, Emma Rowley, also acquits herself well, successfully portraying a young, unsure girl, just looking for her mother’s love.

Grown up June (Leigh Ann Larkin) is played with a deep speaking voice, which comically contracts to her high pitched “Let Me Entertain You.” And thanks to Larkin and Benanti’s singing voices, “If Mama Were Married,” a song I normally loathe listening to, is really quite lovely. Tony Yazbeck is a charming Tulsa, and does nicely in his number “All I Need is the Girl.” One directorial choice I did like was the fact that the strippers were played as, well, past their prime. It really emphasized how low Rose and Louise and Herbie had come. But what was with the stuffed chihuahua and lamb? We’re paying $150 a ticket, and you can’t get real animals?

3 stars


Popular Posts