Tuesday, March 4, 2008

At Last . . .

The poster for Gypsy that overlooks Times Square has a picture of Patti LuPone and just two words in the blurb: "At last . . ."

Pretty cocky advert, huh? So does the actual production live up to the billing?

Boy, does it.

Here's a brief list of what's been running through my head after seeing Gypsy* last night at the St James:

The way June grabs Louise’s hand and holds on for dear life at the end of “If Momma Was Married,” like she’s just realized she has a sister for the first time in her life but she can’t tell her that this is the last time she’ll ever see her. (In fact, everything Leigh Ann Larkin does. Priceless moment: when Miss Cratchitt asks, “Just between us ladies, how old are you?” and Larkin responds in a voice so deep only eyeless fish can live in it: “Nine.” This kid is going to be a star, I tell you--a star.)

The way Boyd Gaines explodes before walking out (just like he said he would) and you realize that Herbie’s got just as much fire as Rose in him, and what a shame they can’t stay together. The way Laura Benanti blossoms from nobody to knockout. The way LuPone attacks “Rose’s Turn,” half-singing and half-snarling her way through every bitter loss she’s ever experienced. Benanti’s knowing Act Two reactions to Rose’s “I had a dream” refrain. Marilyn Caskey's hilariously catatonic Electra. Luise yearning after Tulsa during "All I Need Is The Girl." The way this production warms your heart one moment and then breaks it the next.

And LuPone. She owns every song she sings. And not like a diva; like the character. I have no idea what she did during the City Center run of this, but at the St. James? She's a furious mass of contradictions. I can't describe it any other way except to say that LuPone's delivery, commitment and understanding of the part make you see and hear things you never knew were there. Remember how you used to love "Every Step You Take" until you found out Sting wrote it about stalking his ex-wife, and now you can't listen to it without getting creeped out? In just the same way, I won't ever be able to hear "Everything's Coming Up Roses" again without realizing how self-serving and manipulative it is, thanks to this performance. The vision of Herbie and Louise hugging each other in total fright as Rose forces herself and them to be upbeat is one that will linger long in my memory of great stage moments. It's what made me turn to DJ during intermission and ask "Is this as good as I think it is?" To which she replied with a laugh: "Hell yes!"

Go see it. If you don't, you'll kick yourself. After I kick you.

*Thanks and a tip of the Wells cap and bells to Rob O'Neill for the tickets to last night's preview performance.

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