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Patti LuPone in "Gypsy" at the St. James Theatre
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Patti LuPone in "Gypsy" at the St. James Theatre

- Backstage with the Playwrights


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Gypsy
(Gypsy Website)

Book by Arthur Laurents
(Arthur Laurents Bio)
Music by Jule Styne
Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
(Suggested by the memoirs of Gypsy Rose Lee)
Choreography by Jerome Robbins
At
St. James Theatre
246 West 44th Street
212.239.6200

Starring:
Patti LuPone,
Boyd Gaines, Laura Benanti
Leigh Ann Larkin, Tony Yazbeck, Marilyn Caskey
Alison Fraser, Lenora Nemetz
With: Bill Bateman, Jim Bracchitta, Sami Gayle,
Bill Raymond, Brian Reddy, Emma Rowley
And Ensemble

Directed by Arthur Laurents
Choreography Reproduced by Bonnie Walker
Scenic Design: James Youmans
Costume Design: Martin Pakledinaz
Lighting Design: Howell Binkley
Sound Design: Dan Moses Schreier
Casting: Jay Binder
Wig & Hair Design: Paul Huntley
Makeup Design: Angelina Avallone
Production Stage Manager: Craig Jacobs
Orchestrations by Sid Ramin and Robert Ginzler
Dance Arrangements by John Kander
Music Coordination by Seymour Red Press
General Management: Richard Frankel Prod. /Laura Green
Technical Supervision: Juniper Street Productions, Inc.
Press Representative: Barlow * Hartman
Music Director and Arranger: Patrick Vaccariello

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
April 23, 2008


There is not another show as dazzling as Gypsy, the almost half-century old Broadway dance-musical, with its contagious Styne-Sondheim music and lyrics, Arthur Laurents’ timeless book, and Jerome Robbins’ iconic choreography. Rose, the quintessential vaudeville stage mother, has been played on Broadway by Ethel Merman (1959), Angela Lansbury (1974), Tyne Daly (1989), and Bernadette Peters (2003), but Patti LuPone surpasses expectations and takes this dynamic, explosive, impassioned role to a new level. Ms. LuPone reveals bottomless vulnerability and conflicted maternal capacity, as she drives Baby June and Baby Louise into vaudeville after vaudeville, from Seattle to Los Angeles, and towns and cities across the country, like Akron, Buffalo, and, of course, New York. As the daughters mature, they eventually rebel, and the adult June, craving her own space, disappears against Rose’s fury. The adult Louise, a mousy creature, who had played the rear end of a costumed, two-girl cow, slowly morphs into strip-tease star, newly named Gypsy Rose Lee, with new-found wealth, glamour, and paparazzi. Gypsy Rose Lee, the success, shuns Rose, in a final family tour de force.

Song after song and scene after scene remain in my mind, thanks to Arthur Laurents’ continuing ability, at almost 90, to direct Gypsy as if it’s a Broadway opening, instead of a revival. He brings freshness and energy to the driven, obsessed, and needy Rose, the real life mother of Burlesque Queen, Gypsy Rose Lee, whose 1957 memoir inspired Laurents’ timeless book. The early scenes, with Sami Gayle as Baby June, could be synopsized with about 20 minutes or so cut, some of the repetitious, cute kids’ vaudeville with hand-made scenery. The best moments here are baby June shrilly begging for applause (“May We Entertain You”) and stretching her smile around her face. But, these scenes exemplify the waning vaudevillian opportunities for kids and parents who can bring in the cash. Baby Louise was treated as the throw-away, and Emma Rowley played her with the sad, second-fiddle personality that would befit the sibling that “brings up the rear”. A major figure, Herbie (Boyd Gaines), is a salesman who helps manage this desperate troupe, falling in love with Rose and taking on fatherhood as a wallflower, subjugated by Rose, until he, too, eventually leaves. Gaines is persuasive and fully formed as the man who finally quits trying.

The highpoints of this show are just before and after intermission, with Ms. LuPone’s solos, “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” and “Rose’s Turn”, which she belts out with flawless delivery and perfect pitch, scintillating pizzazz and bravura bellicosity. Laura Benanti, as Gypsy Rose Lee, the adult Baby Louise, who masters burlesque, when vaudeville wanes, is beyond captivating. She is a siren. Ms. Benanti not only controls her audience with some truly sexy (near) strips, using the curtains to her advantage, but she finally controls her mother, as her wealth and prestige support her independence. Rose does not disappear into any moonlight, thus her powerful “Rose’s Turn”. Jerome Robbins’ dances are most impressive, when three burlesque pros, named Tessie Tura, Mazeppa, and Electra (respectively, Alison Fraser, Lenora Nemetz, Marilyn Caskey), teach Gypsy the ropes (“You Gotta Get a Gimmick”), with some startlingly humorous results. They also succeed in the adult (Dainty) June’s (Leigh Ann Larkin) shows with a smiling and talented ensemble (including Alicia Sable, who gave me and my guests a backstage tour), plus Rose’s vocal solos, where she dances up a storm. And, there’s a tap dancer as well, Matthew Lobenhofer.

Minor characters, Jim Bracchitta, as Uncle Jocko, who recruits Baby June, and Tony Yazbeck, as Tulsa, who leaves Rose’s troupe and takes June with him (Rose had formed an entire troupe to back up her daughters, and how she fed, clothed, and housed them is a sub-story) were charismatic and relevant to Rose’s fierce confrontations. The music and lyrics are without doubt some of the best remembered tunes that have echoed in Broadway theatres for decades (“Some People”, in addition to those mentioned above). Yet, the less remembered tunes, like “If Momma Was Married” (sung by Louise and June, after Herbie proposes and begs Rose to make a home), and “All I Need Is the Girl” (sung by Tulsa and Louise, when Louise thinks Tulsa is asking her to form a duo), played in my mind, as well. Patrick Vaccariello, onstage orchestra conductor, kept the music lively, rich, and upbeat. James Youmans’ sets and Howell Binkley’s lighting, were combined for the shabby vaudevillian skits to the elegant stage fantasy for Rose. Martin Pakledinaz’ costumes were stylized from scruffy to stunning. Paul Huntley’s wigs gave Rose her brown curls, baby June and adult June their blond curls, and the burlesque hussies their hilarious hairdos.

Do not miss Patti LuPone, Laura Benanti, and Boyd Gaines in this magical musical. Kudos to Arthur Laurents for his dynamic directing.



Laura Benanti, Patti LuPone, and Boyd Gaines in "Gypsy"
Courtesy of Paul Kolnik




Laura Benanti in "Gypsy"
Courtesy of Joan Marcus




Patti LuPone in "Gypsy
Courtesy of Joan Marcus


Alicia Sable, Cast of "Gypsy",
with Julie Fratalia, "Gypsy" Fan
Courtesy of Julie Fratalia





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For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at zlokower@bestweb.net