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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
GYPSY
at the St. James Theater

MAMMA STRUTS HER STUFF
By David Lefkowitz

  Patti LuPone/PH: Joan Marcus

The question was not whether Patti LuPone would be any good as Mamma Rose the question was just how incendiary would she be? Would she sledgehammer her way through the role with Mermanesque bravado? Would she act the hell out of it (with the occasional eccentric musical phrasing and slurred lyric just to be uniquely Patti)? Would she use her relative youth to soften and sensualize the role, a la Bernadette Peters, the previous Broadway Rose?

 

 

As nearly ever other critic has written by now, the answer is all of the above and more. Whether fiercely defending her two girls from crude showbiz types or pushing them down the lower rungs of the same business, LuPone's Rose retains just enough sympathy to avoid being a monster - and yet no previous Rose in my theatergoing years has seemed so monstrous when avowing, against all evidence to the contrary, that Everything's Coming Up Roses,and when devouring the spotlight in the 11 o'clock showstopper, Rose's Turn. This Rose doesn't slip into madness she charges into it, forever remaking the world into her own hallucination of it.

 

What Arthur Laurents' staging of the current revival concentrates on, more than anything, is the toll her bull-in-a-tassel-shop method takes on anyone along for the ride. The older daughter, June (Leigh Ann Larkin), is here played as so embittered with her family lifestyle, she not only has to say she's 12 when she's 18, she seems to have the hardened features of a 50 year old.

 

No surprise that Boyd Gaines is tremendously sympathetic as Herbie. He's dignified and gentlemanly - and seemingly the antithesis of the kind of man who'd go for a spitfire like Rose. While Gaines and LuPone don't quite generate sexual chemistry (it's one of the production's few weak points that both actors have to mug to manufacture sexy byplay between Herbie and Rose), Gaines does paint a convincing portrait of Herbie as a quiet man who needs a woman like Rose exactly for the shock she brings to his workaday system. However, when the force of her crazed determinism overwhelms the kinetic joy of being around her, his heartbreak is palpable.

 

Most oppressed by Mamma's mishegos is poor Louise, shoved into the same itinerant lifestyle as her sister but without the compensation of being the one with talent. She's the back end of the cow, the one who doesn't sing out loud enough. Rose loves her but is incapable of appreciating her. Director Laurents, who penned Gypsy's indomitable book, wisely pays as much attention to Louise's growth as he does to Rose's demolition. From the way moonfaced Emma Rowley's Baby Louise keeps darting her eyes to Baby June (Sami Gayle) to mirror her dance steps, to the way grown Louise dies inside when she realizes the girl Tulsa needs isn't her, this Gypsy is a two-woman show. That the other woman is winsome, beautiful and heart-rending Laura Benanti is the other reason this Gypsy may be the best I'll encounter in my lifetime.

That the sets are chintzy and cartoony looking, that the lamb and the puppy are, distractingly, stuffed, and that Rose runs back at the very end to steal an extra bow (a new Laurentian wrinkle that makes sense for Rose's character but just isn't as strong as the show's original close) are small blemishes on a show that proves again to be one of the great diamonds of the form. And I haven't even mentioned Jule Styne's score or Stephen Sondheim's lyrics, from whence came sta

 


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