The newest revival of Gypsy, starring queen diva Patti LuPone, opened in March to obnoxiously good reviews. How good, you ask? The Wall Street Journal wrote that â€œyouâ€™ll never see a more exciting production.â€ The New York Post said the show is full of “unassailable talent and showbiz genius.â€ And nearly every other major news outlet loved it just as much. I chalked it up to hype and “Patti LuPone goggles” (she really is captivating onstage) but went to see it for myself.
Instantly, I understood everyone’s raves, and then I felt a little guilty for my cynicism. It was as good as they said. Let me rephrase that — she was as good as they said. LuPone raises the bar when sheâ€™s onstage, partly because she’s intensely enthralling. She is a presence, and I imagine that she always radiates, even while ordering a latte at Starbucks. Add to that an amazingly good voice and a strong sensibility as an actor and you can see why sheâ€™s pretty much unstoppable.
Gypsy was written in 1959 and has been revived on Broadway four times since its original production. The last revival was in 2003, starring Bernadette Peters (another stage diva in her own right), and Iâ€™m not sure why another revival a mere five years later was necessary. I suppose itâ€™s a little offensive to the Peters production, as if to say, â€œYou did alright, but weâ€™ll do it better.â€ The current revival is directed by Arthur Laurents, the man who wrote Gypsy‘s book and directed two previous Broadway revivals, one with Angela Lansbury, the other with Tyne Daly.
LuPone plays Mama Rose, the stage mother extraordinaire. Set in the Depression and based on the true story of Gypsy Rose Lee, Mama just wants her little girls to be stars and will do anything she can to get them to the top. Her prodding and intrusiveness eventually scar her relationship with her talented daughter, June, and sheâ€™s left to make the less talented daughter, Louise, into a star. This seems like an impossible task until they find themselves in a burlesque house and Louise discovers her niche as a stripper. She becomes Gypsy Rose Lee, the most famous stripper of her time.
Gypsy is a classic musical and a defining piece of American musical theatre. It’s conventionally traditional, but the story has a ton of heart. The music, written by Jule Styne and Stephen Sondheim, is one of the most consistently solid scores of the century. Although this production isnâ€™t without fault â€“- it lacks creative staging, for one -â€“ overall the cast is incredible. Itâ€™s definitely worth seeing, especially because they canâ€™t do another revival anytime soon. Or, at the very least, they shouldnâ€™t.
Gypsy plays at the St. James Theatre, 246 W. 44th St., Tue-Sat 8 PM (also Wed and Sat 2 PM) and Sun 3 PM. Tickets are available at telecharge.com. Visit gypsybroadway.com for more information, and check out more New York theatre reviews at theatreiseasy.com.