Why is Gypsy back only five years since its last Broadway revival? Because (1) Patti LuPone is ready to play Mama Rose (2) Arthur Laurents, who hated Sam Mendes' revival, wants to redirect it (3) Laurents and LuPone patched up their feud (4) a planned revival of Guys and Dolls that was supposed to go into the St. James Theatre never materialized and (5) Gypsy is the best musical. Ever. If La Boheme and Hamlet receive annual revivals, why can't Gypsy?
Two summers ago, LuPone performed the role in a Chicago concert. Last summer, she did the show at City Center. Now the production has transferred to Broadway with nearly its entire cast, including Laura Benanti and Boyd Gaines, both of whom are outstanding.
Whereas Mendes' revisionist revival had a grim, Brechtian overtone and had Bernadette Peters playing Rose as a sexpot, Laurents is totally faithful to the original 1959 staging. This is arguably the definitive production of what is unquestionably a perfect musical.
Considered the King Lear of musical theater, Mama Rose allows an actress to experience a dramatic cycle beginning with hungry ambition in soaring anthems like Everything's Coming Up Roses and ending with a total breakdown in Rose's Turn.
How would we describe LuPone? She combines Rose's fury and vulnerabilities with her diva authority. Unlike at City Center, she is now more focused and refuses to pander for laughs. She also wears a wig that to make her look far less glamorous. And while LuPone's trademark slurring and Elvis-like lip gestures remain intact, she delivers a powerhouse performance as the frustrated, aging backstage mom.
28-year-old Laura Benanti gives her most mature performance to date as Louise, the neglected daughter of Mama Rose who grows up to the world's most famous striptease artist. She cries her way through Little Lamb and spikes a real punch into its final line, the funny but sad observation I wonder how old I am?. In Momma Get Married Today, she and Leigh Ann Larkin as June make the number shine both emotionally and vocally as never before, squeezing each others' hands in anticipation of breaking away from their vulture-like mom. Finally, we watch Louise grow into a woman in Act Two during the strip sequence, which finally allows her to achieve independence and long-delayed puberty.
Boyd Gaines, who lately has made a habit of playing supporting avuncular characters in plays like Journey's End and Pygmalion, is again playing second wing to the star. Still, his performance as Herbie, the long-suffering beau to Momma Rose, is real and poignant, brimming with the character's pain and the occasional comforts of being with his manipulative girlfriend.
Laurents does add one new thing. At the end, Rose usually delivers a final glance to the stage before she walks away in peace. Now, she continues to reach in vanity for her name in lights as though she were stretching for the stars until the curtain falls. In three months, we suspect LuPone will reach for a well-earned Tony.