9 May 2008 (Sat), Broadway
I had high hopes for Gypsy, one of everyone’s favorite shows. I had seen this on Broadway twice before with very different portrayals by Tyne Daly and Bernadette Peters, not to mention the Rosalind Russell movie and the TV production with Bette Midler. The show depends on a strong central performance, and Patti LuPone had brilliant reviews – she seems pretty much born to do this role. So I was looking forward to it.
Unfortunately I wasn’t as taken with the show as everyone else seems to be. Patti LuPone was trying a bit too hard to put her stamp on the role. She gives the impression of ‘acting’ rather than inhabiting the role. It’s hard to forget that we’re watching Patti LuPone instead of Mama Rose. Arthur Laurents’ direction didn’t help. For example, in “Together Wherever We Go”, the characters do some strange rotating movements on the bench that suggest that Laurents wasn’t comfortable with letting the material speak for itself. It calls attention to itself in an unnatural way, and LuPone suffers as a result. Baby June was also poorly directed both as a child and adult (her “If Mama Was Married” was way too angry). In fact, the tone of the whole show was angry. There has to be some sympathy for the main character, if only pity, for the show to work. For all her energy, LuPone played it the easy way and lost. Also, she sings like she’s got something in her mouth. She’s a powerful singer, for sure, but she really needs to work on her elocution. When I saw Nanette the first time, Tyne Daly was sitting in the row behind me, and it made me remember what a great Mama Rose she was, simply playing the material as written without unnecessary decoration. (I think that was also directed by Laurents.) Even Bernadette Peters, a strange choice for the role, gave a fully thought-out performance that, while not ultimately convincing, was perfectly valid given her character type and absolutely compelling in its uniqueness. I loved LuPone in the stripped-down Sweeney Todd, where conversely I could understand every word she sang. So I don’t get it here. It’s a shame. To make things worse, I didn’t like the Tulsa at all, and, in a real rarity, didn’t think the three burlesque girls were particularly distinctive or memorable. On the other hand, the performers who played Gypsy and Herbie were the best I’ve ever seen, so it wasn’t a total waste. And the ending, where Gypsy laughs in her mother’s face and walks out on her, seemed extremely mean-spirited but was an interesting take. Gypsy is a great show by any measure and is always worth seeing. It’s just so frustrating to come out wanting more.