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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at the St. James Theatre

By Jessica Branch

  Patti LuPone as Rose/Ph: Joan Marcus

If there's a lesson to be learned from this (or any) staging of Gypsy, it's that presentation can make or break even the most stellar talent. Whether Gypsy is the story of the ugly duckling turned showstopping stripper or the story of the hard-driving mother of all stage mothers &ndash either way, it's all about how the sidekick, dressed up and given the spotlight, can prove to be the star. Sadly, recent productions of this phenomenal show revealed the opposite &ndash that miscasting, poor staging, and inept direction could dumb down, distort, and destroy even the brightest music, smartest lyrics, and most compelling book. In this production, directed by the musical's original book author, Arthur Laurents, and headed up by Patti LuPone as the world's most famous stage mom, Gypsy's at last found a revival that is a true revelation.

LuPone, who has never been the wind beneath anyone's wings, presents a Mama Rose who is overbearing and outrageous without being bombastic. In her frizzy wig and maternal frocks, she is persistent, more than a little psycho, and a vocal powerhouse, but her pushiness is more a steady, unwavering drone than an ear-splitting roar. LuPone gets Rose's drive and delightfulness, but she doesn't shy away from her demands, her fits of depression, or even her ultimate neediness. She's blessed with an unsurpassed supporting cast. Sweet-voiced Laura Benanti makes the transition from shy second fiddle to ecdysiast siren heartwarming &ndash but also almost inevitable for her mother's daughter, and Boyd Gaines, as Rose's devoted suitor and agent Herbie, brings depth and appeal to a character often played as a doormat, as well as a real chemistry with LuPone. And Leigh Ann Larkin , as the disgruntled Dainty June, shines as the sullen star-blatantly mocking the routines she performs, but still, despite herself, talented.

Under Laurents&rsquo smart, taut direction, LuPone and the rest of the cast treat the non-vaudeville numbers (almost all now American standards) with a refreshing casualness &ndash tempi are quick and the cast tends to forego the usual Broadway over-enunciation. But while the vaudeville routines are treated as the set-pieces they are, they're performed with a liveliness that makes their very cheesiness enjoyable. While the 2003's revival, starring Bernadette Peters, felt like a tedious trudge through songs the audience was meant to despise, the current version exudes a charm and cleverness that reveals why vaudeville did appeal so much to Rose (and millions more). Like its titular heroine, the show has found the perfect presentation.


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