March 29, 2008

My Belated Roses for "Gypsy"

Every theater lover dreams of seeing a once-in-a- lifetime performance that people will talk about for years to come. And I think I may have just seen one. For Patti LuPone is giving a legendary performance as Mama Rose in the new revival of Gypsy that opened at the St. James Theatre this week.

I confess that’s not the way I felt when LuPone performed in the three week-run for the Encores! series production of Gypsy that played at City Center last summer. “Maybe it’s the heat,” I wrote then, trying to explain why “the hair never stood up on the back up my neck.” Well, this time around, I could give a porcupine a run for its money.

As I did last summer, I still enjoyed Boyd Gaines’ moving portrayal of Herbie, Rose's long-suffering boyfriend; and Laura Benanti’s winning performance as her gawky daughter Louise who blossoms into the swank stripper Gypsy Rose Lee. But it is LuPone who thrilled me. She has slimmed down, both her weight and her trademark Patti ticks, burrowed into the role and come out with a performance that captures all the complexities that make Rose’s archetypal stage mother indomitable and lovable, unbearable and sensual, and ultimately wrenchingly poignant.

Because my husband K is playing in the orchestra, I got to go to the opening night. It wasn’t the fanciest opening I’ve ever been to but it may have been the most emotional. The applause for LuPone was so long and loud when she made her through-the-audience entrance that it threatened to throw off the pace of the scene. By the end of the first act, the cheers were almost ferocious.

LuPone lobbied long and hard to bring her Mama Rose to Broadway. A feud between her and Arthur Laurents, who wrote the book, which originally opened 50 years ago, and who directs this production, famously thwarted her dream for years. But the two finally made up and I felt as though I were witnessing a bit of Broadway lore-in-the-making when LuPone went into the wings during the tumultuous curtain call to bring out Laurents and Stephen Sondheim, who wrote the show’s lyrics to the late Jule Styne’s gloriously brassy score (just listening to the marvelous overture is almost worth the price of your ticket).

After a brief speech, Laurents seemed unsure what to do next. LuPone stuck out her hand, “Arthur, come take a bow with your company,” she told him. And he did. The two of them kept holding hands and after all the bows had been taken, and everyone else had drifted off the stage, they remained, whispering into one another’s ears. Finally they put their arms around one another and strolled off. They’d come through the production together brilliantly. Patti has signed to play for a full year. Laurents, although 90, is making plans for a new revival of West Side Story. And I’m now prepared to follow them wherever they go.


Sarah B. Roberts said...

Beautiful!!!!! And now I will listen even closer to that glorious orchestra!

Anonymous said...

I agree with you completely. I saw the show last summer at the City Center and thought Lupone was very sluggish in the role. But she's absolutely found her fury, because the performance I witnessed a week ago was ferocious. A must-see show and an unforgettable performance from Patti. I sat in my seat, positive that I was witnessing a performances for the ages. She is that fantastic in this show!

Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Brava, Jan!

Great review, and after seeing it shortly after meeting you in person, I was similarly wowed! Of course, it helped that our meeting was so enjoyable, putting me in the perfect mood for such an excellent show.

jan@broadwayandme said...

Great to hear from all of you. I'm just catching up with comments but am so glad that you all had as good a time as I did. And I had an equally great time at our bloggers' brunch last Sunday. I'm looking forward to doing it again and, in the meantime, to continuing our conversations in our blogs and comments about this art form that we all love so much, jan