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Paulanne Simmons

"Gypsy" is Back

"Gypsy" -- photo by Paul Kolnik.

Directed by Arthur Laurents
St. James Theatre
246 West 44th Street
Opened March 27, 2008
Tues. thru Sat. 8 p.m., Wed. & Sat. matinees 2 p.m., Sun. matinee 3 p.m.
$117-$42 (212) 239-6200
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons April 2, 2008

"Gypsy" Is Back.

There's a special irony in reviving legendary hits like Arthur Laurents, Jule Styne and Stephen Sondheim's 1959 hit, "Gypsy." While it's almost impossible to totally ruin the show, it's equally difficult to make your mark in a work that carries so much excellent baggage.

It's hard to tell how many people who see the new Broadway revival starring Patti LuPone saw Ethel Merman in the original production, Angela Lansbury in1974, Tyne Daly in 1991, or Bernadette Peters in 2004. But once LuPone steps onto the stage at the St. James Theatre, it's obvious she's going to make this role totally her own.

As the quintessential stage mother who launched Gypsy Rose Lee on her career, LuPone is brassy and vulnerable, calm and frenetic, distracted and intense. Her voice fills the theater and her heart takes over the stage. Who could ask for more?

But there is more. Laurents, who knows the book better than anyone else, directs this revival, with tender attention and a loving respect. Patrick Vaccariello never lets his orchestra overwhelm the singing. And James Youmans' set makes the declining years of vaudeville a definite presence that never overpowers the acting.

The supporting cast is also tremendous. Boyd Gaines portrays Herbie not so much as long-suffering but rather deeply attached and attracted to an impossible woman. He is the voice of decency and reason crying in the wilderness. His anger and desperation is so moving it's hard to sit still and not yell out, "Marry the man, already."

One of the most effective interpretations in this production is the way the very physical attraction between Herbie and Rose is made manifest. LuPone, who knows how to show a leg and tickle a fancy, leaves no doubt how she keeps Herbie under her thumb.

Laura Benanti's emergence from the quiet, self-effacing Louise to the incandescent Gypsy is thrilling to watch. By the end of the show, we can easily see whose daughter she was all along.

All the showstoppers are still stopping the show – Alison Fraser, Lenora Nemetz and Marilyn Caskey's 'You Gotta Get a Gimmick," "The Strip" and of course, the tour-de-force that has defeated more than a few hopefuls , "Rose's Turn," which LuPone executes with breathtaking power and feeling.

There aren't many times when everything – book, music, lyrics – comes together in a soaring production that shakes us to our soul. That leaves us smiling and wiping our eyes. That makes us want to head to the ticket office and buy tickets for everyone we know, or for ourselves so we can see it all over again. If you're in doubt, go get your own ticket and find out for yourself.


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