July 17, 2007
"Gypsy", Patti and Me
Even people who don’t know anything about theater know that the theatrical event of the summer is the Encores! production of Gypsy starring Patti LuPone as the archetypal stage mother, Mama Rose. It is a role that Patti was born to play and has been waiting a lifetime to do. And almost everyone who has seen her feels that they have witnessed a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Everyone except me. Maybe it’s the heat.
For the first time ever, the popular Encores! series is doing a summer production and running the show, a complete production and not just its usual staged readings, for three weeks. Even so, tickets aren’t easy to get. But my husband K plays in the Encores! orchestra and so my sister Joanne and I went to the invited dress performance. Arthur Laurents, who wrote the book and directed not only this production and the two previous versions with Angela Lansbury [correction from original post thanks to Mondschein of Third Row, Mezzanine] and Tyne Daly and who is now nearly 90, came out before the curtain rose to greet the audience and got a standing ovation. Joanne and I have loved Gypsy since we were kids and she fell in love with it all over again. We went backstage after the show and ran into our friend Red Press, the longtime musical contractor who has been hiring orchestras for Broadway shows for nearly 40 years. The original production of Gypsy was the second Broadway show he ever played as a young saxophonist and his first hit. There’s a photo of him at a rehearsal with Ethel Merman who, of course, created the role of Mama Rose. He told us he thought Patti was better. People posting on chat rooms have competed to come up with superlatives to describe the show. My very hip stepdaughter Anika went to the opening night and called me as soon as it was over to tell me how great she thought it was. So what’s up with me?
I don’t know. Boyd Gaines, who has become one of my favorite actors, brings touching humanity to Herbie, the sad-sack agent in love with Rose. Laura Benanti is alternately winsome and sexy as the awkward tomboy Louise who grows up to be the superstar stripper Gypsy Rose Lee. The trio who play the strippers who mentor the rookie Gypsy literally stop the show. Patti delivers both of her curtain numbers with her usual Patti panache. And, of course, there is the rest of that marvelous score by Jule Styne and Stephen Sondheim. But what can I say, the hair never stood up on the back up my neck. The last time I felt like this way was at a party where everyone else was happily high from drinking great wine and I was stone-cold sober because I was taking medication to cure a foot fungus and the doctor told me not to drink. I skipped the actual opening night party at the Redeye Grill even though K and Anika called and urged me to meet them there. I felt I didn’t deserve the celebration. But you do, so do what you can to see the show. And even if I didn’t, I hope you get drunk on it.