Writing a review of Gypsy on TalkinBroadway is like writing a review of The Bible at the Vatican. Many a bishop, cardinal, and quite a few infallible popes on All That Chat have offered their opinions about this new revival of the classic musical at City Center. Be that as it may, we humbly offer our own observations with, we hope, an additional perspective on the larger issues this production raises.
One of the surprises about this Gypsy is that it's not all about Patti LuPone. While she is surely the show's lightning rod (in more ways than one), it is not presented nor played like a star vehicle. LuPone has been surrounded by one of the strongest supporting casts any leading lady could hope for. People may differ in their opinions about Patti's performance, but Boyd Gaines (Herbie), Laura Benanti (Louise), Alison Fraser (Tessie Tura) and just about everybody that has the slightest bit of a role, are simply superb.
Cards on the table: we are Patti fans. That said, we had our doubts about her performance during the first few scenes. Her "Some People" smolders rather than burns. But soon thereafter she seems to ignite. Her performance gains dimension – and not a little warmth – when she and Herbie meet and sang "Small World." From that point on, LuPone just keeps digging, mining Rose for her deeply flawed humanity. By the second act, when it counts, LuPone has created a monstrously real and vital character, made all the more resonant because she is in the company of equally real and vital renditions of Herbie and Louise.
The sets are nothing to brag about, the costumes are adequate, but Gypsy doesn't need much dressing up because its book and score are so inherently brilliant. Arthur Laurents' direction is a bit over busy at the top of the show but settles down quickly to tell the story without drawing undo attention to itself. It's then that the actors meld with the material and Gypsy fulfills its reputation as God's gift to musical theater – God being the father (Laurents), the son (Stephen Sondheim) and the holy ghost (Jule Styne).
While there have been a great many words written lately about Patti and Gypsy, much less has been said about the Summer Stars series of which this production is the first. Clearly, we are at the beginning of a series of yearly revivals that will (happily) bring back the Broadway star system – at least during the summer.
Most musicals today need to run for years in order to make back their bucks. When you launch a show like The Pajama Game with Harry Connick, Jr. or The Boy From Oz with Hugh Jackman, when your star goes, so goes your show. As a producer, your upside potential has a ceiling. On the other hand, shows like Spring Awakening, Le Miz, any of the Disney musicals, aren't marketed on the names of their stars. Producers like that, and "name" stars often get purposefully overlooked. But the fact is that the great musicals of the past require the magic of a star to make it flower from the inside out. For instance, Man of La Mancha needs a Brian Stokes Mitchell; an unknown actor simply won't do. This new Summer Series at City Center will give us the opportunity to see our stars more often and in shows that suit them.
We can reasonably hope that the likes of Donna Murphy, Bernadette Peters, Kristin Chenoweth, Brian Stokes Mitchell, and others of that rarified ilk, will be more regularly available to us so that we don't have to wait, as we sometimes do, years and years between their appearances in suitable roles. In that sense, this production of Gypsy truly suggests to all of us who love musical theater that, at least during the summer, everything is coming up roses.
Gypsy plays through through July 29 at City Center, West 55th Street, between 6th and 7th Avenues. Visit CityCenter for ticket and schedule information.
Angry Young Women in Low Rise Jeans with High Class Issues
The tagline on the cover of the program for Angry Young Women ... reads "Even Though It's a Play, It Doesn't Suck." We beg to differ. This series of sketches and monologues that deal with contemporary sexual issues would like to be sassy and smart but is more often vulgar and cynical. Writer and director Matt Morillo says it all when he writes in the program: "Who knew that putting a bunch of pretty girls on stage in their underwear and having them say "blow job" would be so much fun? Actually, I guess we kind of knew all along."
Yes, sex sells. Always has. Always will. In this case Angry Young Women ... has transferred from Off-Off Broadway to Off-Broadway with an open-ended run at the Players Theatre. It's a great title, give 'em that. But the piece doesn't fulfill its promise. A show like Naked Boys Singing was much better than it needed to be to commercially succeed. Angry Young Women ... is much worse. It has an appalling opening monologue that is badly written and horribly acted. And most of its comedy is in the form of lesser degree sitcom sketches peppered with smutty language.
Rather than continue to run the production down, however, we prefer to point out that there are two performers who manage to rise above the dreck and show some genuine promise. They are Angelique Letizia and Thomas J. Pilutik, both of whom provide grounded performances that bespoke intelligence and a welcome sense of reality.
Angry Young Women in Low Rise Jeans with High Class Issues at Players Theatre, 115 MacDougal St. in an open-ended run. Visit Theatermania for ticket and schedule information.
-- Barbara and Scott Siegel