Sunday, April 20, 2008

Gypsy (St. James Theatre)

BOTTOM LINE: Run to catch this show. A first rate revival with performances not to be missed.

Gypsy is a strange show, and in some ways a sad show. It's about compromised dreams, the fickleness of celebrity, lost opportunities, unrequited love, the death of Vaudeville, overbearing parents's absolutely wonderful.

Every so often when you sit in the theatre you have that rare glimmer of witnessing a moment in theatre history. This particular revival of Gypsy and Patti LuPone's performance as Rose, the stage mother to put all others to shame, is not to be missed. Patti has connected to some cosmic chord of mothers everywhere who live through their children. Her Rose is sexy, flirtatious, desperate, single minded, and as ambitious as they come. She's both tough as nails and deeply vulnerable. From her rendition of "Some People" at the top of the show to her bring-down-the house finale in "Rose's Turn", all you can think is wow. What power. What a theatre animal. What absolutely perfect casting! But she's not the only one. Strong performances by Boyd Gaines, the unassuming Herbie, Rose's love interest, as well as Laura Benanti as Louise and Leigh Ann Larkin as Dainty June, all add to a talented ensemble who know how to hit the right note of sweet and sour in this complicated story.

The story opens during the dying gasp of Vaudeville as Rose is trying to book her daughters on the Orpheum Circuit; a chance to tour the country and make her children stars of the Vaudeville stage. Their act, "Baby June and Her Newsboys", sees little changes even as her daughters grow into young women who laughably no longer fit into their 10 year old material. The production finds lots of mileage in this concept, from the campiness of the children's routines, to having Rose sneak around during their performances and fix the odd bit of scenery or stray costume piece. Baby June is Rose's chance at fame for the girls. She has the looks, the personality, the ability to do the splits and twirl a baton at the same time: all the skills needed for Vaudeville stardom. But June hates her overbearing mother as well as the material and eventually runs off, leaving Rose to cultivate her shyer sibling Louise into a star. When Louise is accidentally booked into a burlesque house she is greeted by three strippers, played by Marilyn Caskey, Lenora Nemetz, and Alison Frasier, who stop the show with their performance of "You've Gotta Get a Gimmick", a number about finding your niche in the world of Burlesque. Louise decides, as a last resort, to give stripping a try and puts the "tease" back in "strip tease" with her lady-like flirtations with the crowd. And soon Gypsy Rose Lee is born.

Set Designer James Youmans, along with director Arthur Laurents, have done a masterful job of capturing and incorporating the spirit of Vaudeville into their staging and designs. Almost every scene, even the ones at Rose's home, have some set elements that evoke a Vaudeville stage, be it a dilapidated roll-on proscenium, or a stray lighting instrument. The story, itself about Vaudeville, is told through Vaudeville. Whether the characters are auditioning for their next gig, or out to dinner, they are always, quite clearly, on stage. The design's facades are crumbling, just like the hopes and dreams of the show's characters, just like the bygone, romantic and simpler era of entertainment that was Vaudeville itself. Arthur Laurents’ staging furthers this idea, with clever transitions between numbers and a light up marquee to introduce each new scene, as does Jerome Robbins’ timeless choreography, here reproduced by Bonnie Walker.

Take your mom and dad, take your next-door neighbor, take yourself out for the hell of it. But don't miss this incredible revival.

(Gypsy plays at the St. James Theatre, 246 W. 44th St; Tuesday through Saturday at 8pm, Wednesday and Saturday at 2pm, and Sunday at 3pm. Tickets are $42-$117 and are available at telecharge. com or at 212.239.6262. Gypsy runs 2 hours and 50 minutes. For more info visit

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