For a short window of time, you can catch Patti LuPone injecting heaps of her distinctive brand of attitude into the role of Rose, the archetypal stage mother. NY City Center's Summer Stars series at Encores! offers a production that solidly exhibits those more dangerous powers of a mother's love.
LuPone, who was passed over for Bernadette Peters in the last Broadway revival of Gypsy, is at home in the role, and effortlessly surmounts one of the more challenging acting-singing parts around for a leading lady. Whether commandeering a theater manager to get her girls on stage, wooing her man, combating the pain of her star daughter June's departure, or cushioning her own fall when she realizes it's her own unrealized potential that she's been fueled by the entire time, actor and character are always fully committed and never coy .
Laura Benanti , as Louise --the ignored, mousy daughter turned beauty, is affecting. Certain moments between her and her mother's boy friend Herbie ( a less drippy, more respectable rendering of the character by Boyd Gaines),you can feel the child's deep longing for family. Benanti successfully delivers the extremes of her character, at first self-effacing, earnest, door-matty to the core, and later coming into the fullest bloom. Of course, it's a difficult challenge for an actress to give the character the 180 degree turn the script requires--from playing the back end of a cow to a refined queen of burlesque and making it believable that such a change could occur so quickly. She succeeds in the former, (which is more fun) if not the latter.
In the final musical number, the celebrated "Rose's Turn," where Rose comes clean about her hunger for the spotlight, LuPone is nearly terrifying. Just as Rose is the mother duck, the fulcrum from which the family's every move comes, cheering from the wings, or slipping a little scenery onto the stage while the children perform their absurdly patriotic numbers, LuPone serves the same purpose. She rules the roost. LuPone is the reason we're here-and this production trumpets, to whoever didn't know before, her full arrival.