Saturday, July 21, 2007

Don't Cry For Me, Styne and Sondheim

"Gypsy" Encores! Summer Stars production at City Center, July 19, 2007

As Encores! continues to expand programming beyond their original mission, up first is "Gypsy" starring Patti Lupone. Seems like she and Bernadette Peters are competing to see who can do the most Ethel Merman roles. At the moment, I believe they are tied at two each. Ms. Peters has performed Mama Rose and Annie Oakley (both on Broadway) to Ms. Lupone's Mama Rose and Reno Sweeney. If there are others I've neglected, I'm sure I'll be corrected in short order.

This production, under the direction of its book writer Arthur Laurents, does just what a limited summer run should do; bring in a crowd and give them some laughs. Mr. Laurents milks his script for every laugh he can find, even at the price of one or two moments where a bit of pathos might have been nice. In particular, at the end when Gypsy asks Rose why she did what she did all her life. Rose replies "I just wanted to be noticed." It should have been the final touching revelation of Rose's humanity, but instead the mask is solidly back in place and the line is merely tossed out.

As Rose, Ms. Lupone is in her usual fine voice (diction not withstanding). She trumpets through the score, belting out each number with her regular ferocity. Her Rose, however, doesn't always match up to this voice. As she continues to place set pieces during the Orpheum audition (Caroline the Cow), she tiptoes about. When she realizes she's visible, it seems she already knew it, rather than being surprised and attempting to choreograph herself offstage.

In what has been characterized as the most thankless male role in musical theatre, Boyd Gaines gives it everything he's got as Herbie, the world-weary agent. Gaines handles the meek side of Herbie very nicely, but seems a bit at a loss when Herbie does at last lose his temper. His scenes with Ms. Lupone did have a particularly nice quality to them - excellent onstage chemistry.

In supporting roles, Leigh Ann Larkin as Dainty June and Tony Yazbeck as Tulsa turn in fine performances, but both felt a little held back. Ms. Larkin's June gets a couple of good shots in with her scenes with Louise, but I would like to have seen her more angry about being tied to Rose so tightly. Mr. Yazbeck's "All I Need Is The Girl" showcased him beautifully - a fine singer/dancer.

As Louise/Gypsy, Laura Benanti is delightful. She plods along playing second fiddle to June and June's image until her moment to shine finally arrives. The transformation scene, when she's dressed to go on for her first strip was one of the most touching I've seen of the MANY productions of "Gypsy" that I've attended. This transformation continued all the way through the entire strip-sequence, adding layers as she took them off.

Sets by James Youmans and costumes by Martin Pakledinaz were functional and appropriate, but it is Howell Binkley's lighting that makes this production work.

Star watch: Nigel Redden, director of Lincoln Center Festival and Spoleto Festival USA.


Anonymous said...

Great review.

I am so envious that you were able to see this production.

Tony Adams said...

Bernadette Peters was atrocious in her miserable production of Gypsy. I took my partner to see it since he has little knowledge/experience of classic American musical comedy. When it was over, he felt mystified by how bland and dreary it was. I assured him that the whole thing was a mistake and that he should let me try to introduce him again some day. He is skeptical.