First there was Ethel Merman, then Angela Lansbury, Tyne Daly and five years ago, Bernadette Peters. But this season, everything's coming up Patti. Patti Lupone that is, now playing the quintessential Mother of All Stage Mothers in the newest production of "Gypsy." If any actor was ever born to play this role, Lupone was, but surprisingly, she almost missed her chance.
The Broadway diva, known for a bit of temperament, was previously passed over for the part in favor of Peters in the 2003 revival. A contract dispute in an unrelated project between Lupone and director Arthur Laurents -- who also wrote the book -- threatened to keep the inevitable from being inevitable. It took intervention by "Gypsy" producer Scott Rudin, as well as a personal call from Lupone herself, to get the two to kiss and make up.
Ultimately, Laurents' long-time partner, Tom Hatcher, gave the final blessing and Lupone took on one of the most demanding and vocally taxing roles of her career. At 58, Lupone by no means resembles the adorable, pouty Peters, nor the brassy, bombastic Merman (originator of the role), nor the loving, maternal Tyne Daly. What she portrays, however, is more real and transparent than any other Rose: a complexity of personality that makes her sympathetic to all of us who somewhere in our lives didn't achieve what we really wanted.
Her crooked smile, too-large nose, and frumpy dresses scream middle-age Mama whose own dreams revolve only around her daughters being able to carry out what she never could. As daughter Gypsy Rose Lee points out, Mama could have been really something if she had someone like her pushing her.
"Gypsy" is based on Lee's memoirs in which she recounts how she went from being a skinny backup singer for her talented sister, June, to a voluptuous world-famous stripper. On the road with Mama, nothing could have even hinted at this transformation given that June, an effervescent blonde, was Mama's favorite, and every song-and-dance act Mama created was for her.
But eventually June grew up, got fed up and ran off, leaving Rose with the under-appreciated Louise, a dying vaudeville routine called Rose Louise and Her Hollywood Blondes, and an engagement at a strip joint. When one of the strippers goes missing, however, the titillating Tessie Tura the Tassel Twirler and her cohorts give Louise an important lesson, telling her "You Gotta Have a Gimmick," and the rest is history.
This new revival of "Gypsy" is by far the best yet, and Lupone carries the show. With a voice that is real musical theater, Lupone lingers over each Stephen Sondheim lyric and phrase till we're sure that what she's singing is directed at us personally. Her rendition of "Rose's Turn" is nothing short of spectacular, confirming what anyone who has followed her career knows: Lupone is a rarity -- a genuine Broadway star who transcends the evolution in musical theater that has given us "Spring Awakening," "Passing Strange," and other rock musicals.
Boyd Gaines, last year's Tony award winner for "Journey's End," is a lovable and caring Herbie, a poor soul who hooks up with Rose after meeting her at an audition for the girls, and stays far longer than any man should. Laura Benanti, a Tony nominee for her roles in "Swing!," and "Into the Woods," is graceful and demure as Gypsy, and her unexpected transformation into the star her mother always wanted is both haunting and believable.
Together, these three bring out the poignancy of Rose's ultimate dilemma: she needs to be needed, but now, no one needs her. So where does she go? What does she do? Is it love, bitterness, reality, or just plain sad when Rose demands at the end, "if it weren't for me, just where would you be, Miss Gypsy Rose Lee?"
Barbara Mehlman & Geri Manus
"Ms. LuPone is truly focused, sheï¿½s a laser, she incinerates. Especially when sheï¿½s playing someone as dangerously obsessed as Momma Rose in the wallop-packing revival." & "A great Momma Rose is usually enough for a thoroughly compelling ï¿½Gypsy.ï¿½ But this one has so much more."
New York Times
"Has the stuff Broadway dreams are made of: an electrifying leading lady and bangup supporting cast (kids included), making good on the show's implicit vow to entertain you and make you smile."
New York Daily News
(Patti LuPone as) "unassailable talent and showbiz genius" & "Though this essentially modest production has the lingering scent of a summer stockpot, its virtues are such that few will care.
New York Post
"The intensity of LuPone's electrifying portrayal lights up the theater like a mega-watt marquee. Long may she blaze."
"This Gypsy is as serious as a heart attack, and about as subtle. It's also campy and clamorous, by turns brighter and less buoyant than the version Laurents helmed off-Broadway last summer with the same principal actors."
"In one of the more puzzling and dispiriting developments to reach Broadway in some time, Arthur Laurents's staging of the acid-etched 1959 valentine to show business has managed to shed nearly everything that made its previous iteration ï¿½ a keenly anticipated three-week run last summer at City Center ï¿½ so cherished."
New York Sun
"Absolute perfection may not be within human grasp; but story, lyrics and music, as performed here, fuse into a more than reasonable facsimile."
"Terrifically entertaining revival."
"The joy doesn't stop until the final curtain comes down."
"New York theater audiences haven't exactly been suffering from a paucity of productions of the classic musical "Gypsy" in recent years, but the current revival starring Patti LuPone demonstrates that, if done right, there can never be enough."
The Hollywood Reporter
"This is not your everyday canned tuner; in this production it's an incisively acted musical play with as much emotional resonance as showbiz pizzazz."