Monday, July 30, 2007

PLAY: "Gypsy"

Photo/Ari Mintz

After hearing all the praise for Gypsy, I was expecting to drop dead of excitement watching LuPone channel all of her estimable skill into the role of Rose. Maybe I suffered from a case of overexpectations. Maybe there were too many fawning fans in the audience--a celebratory praise party--for me to enjoy the oft-interrupted performance. Maybe I was sitting too far away from the stage to appreciate the phenomenon happening on it. But I don't like to make excuses: maybe the show just wasn't as good as it was hyped up to be.

There are certainly many good things about Gypsy: the story is sharp (especially for the time), the script is explosive, and the lyrics give a glimpse of Sondheim's growing ferocious playfulness. And there are certainly good things to be said for this production: Arthur Laurents, having written the book, understands how to hit the running jokes as a director, and Boyd Gaines manages to simmer more than simper, which gives a nice humanity and complexity to his opposite, Patti LuPone. And I like LuPone in this role: she doesn't try to be technically perfect with the lines (though she can, puttering and pattering through "Some People" and "Mr. Goldstone"). She sings with heart first, cracking with emotion, and then raising her voice even higher to fill those cracks with pure soul.

But, and this is the big, diplomatic but: Gypsy is a repetitive musical, trapped in vaudevillian rhythms and one-off tunes. Based on a memoir, the focus is tangential at best (see how June disappears, look how undeveloped Tulsa is). Nor does the intimate staging play to the rafters: this is not a big, razzle-dazzle show (as the lame "You Gotta Get a Gimmick" proves). Lousie's corrupted blossoming (in "The Strip") is pretty tame in today's world, and Laura Benanti's best moments in this role are her far subtler pleas to be noticed in "All I Need Is the Girl." After all that, "Everything's Coming Up Roses" winds up being a better song for LuPone than "Rose's Turn": the second act strains and bucks with attempts to stretch the story. And while I'm glad to see a full orchestra right there with a set and a memorized script, there were so many gaps -- such emptiness on the stage -- that this might as well have been the "normal" concert version of the Encores! series.

Did LuPone fill that stage? No. She tried. And perhaps if the audience hadn't been quite so supportive, she might have found that extra spark in Rose's personality that would have truly blown me away.

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