City Center Encores! Announces 23rd Season

Cabin in the Sky
Music: Vernon Duke
Lyrics: John LaTouche
Book: Lynn Root
February 10-14, 2016

Music and Lyrics: Sherman Edwards
Book: Peter Stone
March 30-April 3, 2016

Do I Hear a Waltz?
Music: Richard Rodgers
Lyrics: Stephen Sondheim
Book: Arthur Laurents
May 11-15, 2016

‘Gypsy’ – Savoy Theatre


While it seems as if there’s a new Broadway revival of Gypsy every five minutes, London has not seen a production of the legendary musical since the original West End production closed in 1974. The musical, which tells the story of Rose Hovick and her two daughters, who would go on to become Gypsy Rose Lee and June Havoc, has been an instant classic since its 1959 Broadway premiere and contains one of the all-time great musical theatre leading roles. When I learned that Imelda Staunton would be headlining the first London revival in over 40 years, I decided to book my flight.

This new West End production is an import from the Chichester Theatre Festival, where Staunton and director Jonathan Kent previously collaborated on a successful Olivier-winning production of Sweeney Todd. The two also worked together on the UK premiere of David Lindsay-Abaire’s Good People. The critical response for Gypsy has eclipsed these two productions, garnering the sort of reviews that press agents can only dream about. Such notices can inflate my own expectations and lead to disappointment. Well, if anything, my expectations were exceeded. Imelda Staunton is giving a career-defining performance as Rose. Other Roses I’ve seen have given star turns (and were excellent), but Imelda just acts it. Her performance is epic in size, but unfailingly grounded. The cumulative result is one of the most searing star turns I’ve ever witnessed, and ranks among the top five performances I’ve ever seen in my theatergoing life.

The legendary cry “Sing out, Louise!” is heard from the back of the Savoy Theatre, and Staunton’s Rose, a diminutive spitfire, emerges from the shadows as though shot from a cannon. From these opening moments onward, there lurks a darkness in her, something a lot like rage, that sometimes rears its head at moments both expected and unexpected. These flashes sow the seeds for the inevitability of both “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” (harrowing) and “Rose’s Turn” (utterly devastating). But Imelda’s Rose is also charming, playful, resourceful, alert and unrelentingly maternal. Her singing voice is also up to the challenge, nuanced and warm on the ballads, but with the ability to fill the theater with a powerful, gritty belt when necessary.

In the lead-up to “Everything’s Coming Up Roses,” as favored daughter June elopes and the vaudeville act falls apart, Rose’s new plan to focus on Louise (out of spite, out of desperation) was met with some uncomfortable giggling by the audience, who seemed incredulous that this woman was even remotely serious. This nervous laughter turned to silent sheer terror within seconds as Rose beat June’s letter as though scolding a child, and again moments later as Rose grabbed Louise by the nape of her neck and forced her to bow on the line “Blow a kiss, take a bow…”

Her “Turn” was in another realm entirely. During the mock-strip portion, she alternated between mocking Dainty June and imitating Louise’s gestures from the “The Strip,” caustic, withering and crazed. In a performance filled with bold risks, Imelda’s greatest was a pregnant pause before the line “Momma’s gotta let go.” The audience sat compelled in pin-drop silence as Rose worked through her maelstrom of emotions. Every second was earned and never gratuitous, and it haunted me for hours afterward.

That Ms. Staunton is so tremendous is a wonder give than the production is using the detrimental revisions made for the 2008 Broadway revival. These changes made by librettist Arthur Laurents to accommodate Patti LuPone strip away both comedy and vulnerability, and make Rose more one-dimensional. (The brilliant Styne-Sondheim score remains untouched). It’s a testament to Staunton’s triumph that she manages to bring humor and considerable pathos in spite of these limiting alterations. For the record, a more traditional ending is restored and is staged in such a way that I was moved to tears.

Lara Pulver is a good Louise. If it’s a bit of stretch to see her playing a child, her performance becomes stronger as her character ages. She is at her best after she’s transitioned from awkward Louise to elegant Gypsy Rose Lee. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the final scene played better. Blessed with an exquisite voice, Pulver also adds some delicious flourishes to the end of “The Strip.” She has one especially thrilling moment: gawkish Louise clumsily drops her glove during the opening of “The Strip” and bends over to pick it up. A cat-call is heard from the balcony. She looks up and smiles. She’s suddenly aware of her own beauty and the impact of her own sexuality on an audience. Gypsy Rose Lee is born.

Peter Davison is a warm, ingratiating Herbie, tall and lovable, with a calming presence. There have been some complaints by West End critics about his singing, and I find it amusing that we live in a time where we expect Herbie to be a good singer. Dan Burton, who is the West End equivalent to Tony Yazbeck, is a sensational Tulsa, with eye-popping technique in all three departments and a superb American accent, to boot. The three strippers are a knockout comic trio, especially Louise Gold’s Amazonian Mazeppa, complete with deadpan Lady Baritone.

Kent’s staging doesn’t reinvent the wheel. It’s a traditional production in virtually every respect, but Gypsy is a tried-and-true classic and doesn’t need much tinkering. His great achievement here is in the work he has done with the actors, particularly in cultivating the central mother-daughter dynamics. Some of the original dances remain, while Stephen Mear has choreographed the rest in the spirit of Jerome Robbins (the most notable: a new, more elaborate “All I Need Is the Girl” for Burton). There is a somewhat reduced orchestration (no strings), which isn’t ideal, but doesn’t detract from the overall experience.

Imelda is worth the price of admission. I would go so far as to say she’s also worth the price of the air fare and accommodation. Beg, borrow or steal; whatever you have to do to get to the Savoy Theatre before November 28 (when this extended limited engagement is set to close). This is one for the history books and you do not want to miss it.

Also: there’s a new 2015 London Cast Recording. It sounds fantastic, and while it won’t supplant other recordings in the canon (namely the superlative original Broadway cast recording starring Ethel Merman), it offers a wonderful document for those of us who have seen the production.

"Anyone Can Whistle" at Encores

I would like to call for a coronation in New York City. I don’t know if there are any statutes in the NY government that allow for such activity, or even whether her colleagues would appreciate my hubris, but if there is anyone who deserves to be crowned the Queen of Musical Comedy (at least this year) it is Donna Murphy, who experienced another in a series of career triumphs in this weekend’s Encores! revival of Anyone Can Whistle. If you missed her performance, I am legitimately sorry for you because it was the most scrumptious, delectable, laugh-out-loud hilarious musical comedy performance I’ve seen in the last several years.

Lusty, shallow, greedy, neurotic and deliriously oblivious, Murphy sashays through the evening like a Vegas nightclub diva, complete with a quartet of male dancers who follow her everywhere she goes. Her voice is in exceptional form and each one of her numbers was a pure knockout. Every nuance in her delivery, her physical movement, even the way she pronounces her own last name is enough to bust a gut. Her physicality is fearless, brash and just about the greatest thing since sliced bread. Every moment she is onstage you can’t help but watch her – she’s not only funny, but fascinating.

Murphy, coiffed by Gregg Barnes in an homage to the role’s originator Angela Lansbury (who insisted she play the part), is so winning that she would win every theatre award in sight were she eligible. It’s even more impressive when you think of her career trajectory: the bleak, depressive Fosca in Passion, the prim Mrs. Anna in The King and I, Ruth Sherwood in Wonderful Town and Phyllis in Follies. There are not many actresses with such extensive range and ability.

It bears mentioning that Ms. Murphy is not onstage alone. Sutton Foster is lots of fun as a Fay Apple, the uptight pragmatic nurse who can only let down her guard when dolled up like a French tart. She brings that now trademark belt to “There Won’t Be Trumpets” and offered a touching rendition of the title song. Raul Esparza flits around wildly as Hapgood, the would-be doctor who is actually a patient running the asylum. Edward Hibbert, Jeff Blumenkrantz and John Ellison Conlee provide enormous comic support as ‘Hoovah-Hoopah’s’ sidekicks, partners in crime (and possibly some more unmentionable extra-curricular activities).

This legendary flop played nine performances at the Majestic in 1964, an overreaching satire about a bankrupt city whose corrupt mayoress (and minions) concoct a phony miracle in order to capitalize on it. I won’t get too far into the plot as, well, with this show it doesn’t particularly matter. Laurents’ libretto is a meandering mess that tries too hard to lampoon everything imaginable. It seems that by trying to make the show all about everything that the creators inadvertently made it about nothing. David Ives made judicious cuts to the book, but to little avail: the piece as a whole is still unworkable and unsalvageable.

But there is still that score. Goddard Lieberson had the foresight to record the score in spite of the show’s closing. Sondheim, at this point, was primarily known as a lyricist and whose only Broadway composing credit was the smash hit A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. It was in Anyone Can Whistle that Broadway had its first taste of the Sondheim style and sound, which would revolutionize the genre in 1970’s Company. The album turned the show into a cult favorite, keeping Sondheim’s music and lyrics alive.

In honor of the composer’s 80th birthday, Encores! offers the rare NY revival and it is highly doubtful this production could be bettered. Director-choreographer Casey Nicholaw, also responsible for the memorable Encores! concert of Follies three years ago, has staged the piece with winning originality, especially in the subtitled bedroom scene. His dances are especially polished. They culminate in a showstopping climax with the “Cookie Chase,” a comic ballet complete with butterfly nets and tumbles. It’s a zany, absurd piece that simultaneous recalls the Keystone Cops and Tchaikowsky and is utterly ingenious, and an homage to the work of Herbert Ross, the original choreographer.

This is one of the best I’ve seen at the City Center. However, if producers are thinking of transferring this one, I don’t think that would be a wise move. It’s unlikely that we’ll ever see a commercial production that could make the show work or make it as fun as this one. But this is the ideal Encores! experience: a show that wouldn’t ordinarily be revived. This one will be best remembered for its triumphant weekend. Let’s hope next season can produce such a winner. Now I just wonder who’ll we have to see about getting Donna Murphy onstage in that other Lansbury star vehicle, Mame.

A Trip to the Library

Over the past couple of weeks I have been going through the house and sorting out the debris of my life. There are a lot of memories ensconced within my three rooms, and felt the need to organize it. While shuffling through some papers and sheet music, a CD fell out from the pile. It was the second cast album of Kiss of the Spider Woman with Vanessa William, Brian Stokes Mitchell and Howard McGillin. I had borrowed it from the local library about five or six years ago and had lost it. The thing was, I had gone back to college and someone else in the family was going to return it for me. Well, that didn’t happen and I ended up paying $20 for it, in spite of the fact it was nowhere to be found.

Anyway, I was so surprised to see this and decided that I should return it. I checked the library system online and they had even removed its listing. In the years since, I had acquired a cheap copy of the recording for myself and felt it would be better served back in their catalog. Suddenly I got excited at the idea of going to the library. I hadn’t used it in a long time since I spent so much time working at Barnes and Noble, and really didn’t need. I have a lot of books and was able to borrow hardcovers from the store.

I’m an unabashed book nerd; I was legitimately excited by the prospect of using the library again. So here I was back in the building and after filling out the necessary paperwork, I had a brand new library card (my old one was lost somewhere… three days after this trip during more sorting and organization that also fell out of a pile). I felt it most necessary to inaugurate the card while I was there. I went up to the theatre arts section on the second floor, where I made frequent trips during high school and embarked on my musical theatre studies.

I checked out two books: Rodgers and Hammerstein by Ethan Mordden and Mainly on Directing by Arthur Laurents.

The former is one I’ve read cover to cover several times; I am tempted to pick up my own copy. It’s a coffee table sized book which has the added bonus of generous history and criticism of the entire R&H canon. There are copious amounts of photographs, both color and black & white interspersed throughout. Captions abound. I don’t necessarily agree with Mordden on some of his theories, but I do find it fun to read what he has to say about every work from Oklahoma! to The Sound of Music, including comments on their film and television projects. For some reason the book is out of print, but there are used copies available on amazon, and it is one to remember.

Laurents’ book focuses on his career as a director. The first chapter is devoted to his immense dislike for the 2003 revival of Gypsy starring Bernadette Peters. The star emerges unscathed, but there are very few kind words for director Sam Mendes. The majority of the book is devoted to his direction of the Patti LuPone Gypsy reviewing the course of the show from the City Center to Broadway. The general feeling I get as I read is that Laurents feels he’s the only one can direct any of the works he has written. He takes the usual swipes at Merman and Robbins, for whom he had little love in his memoir Original Story By. But this time there are a couple of pointed digs at Sondheim as well. The writer-director also talks La Cage Aux Folles (and again, no love lost on the revival) and his dislike of drag and how he came to rediscover West Side Story He also claims it to be about love; the book came as a tribute to his late partner, Tom Hatcher. However, the only love to be found in the text, which makes for an interesting read, is for Hatcher.

So I’m off to a solid start; there are a lot of theatre books I want to reread and others which I have yet to pick up. Mordden’s series on musical theatre decade by decade, William Goldman’s The Season, among others. But first? I assuage my ladies of the DLS/HWS with a quartet of Dorothy L. Sayers books.

Any suggestions as to what I should read…?

The Great American Musical Turns 50

Next month marks the 50th anniversary of what Walter Kerr called “The best damn musical I’ve seen in years.” The musical, based on the memoirs of that memorable ecdysiast Gypsy Rose Lee, opened at the Broadway Theatre on May 21, 1959 (after a mere two previews) to great reviews and a memorable star turn from the irrepressible Ethel Merman. Arthur Laurents, in what would be prove to be his last credible success as a musical theatre librettist, contributed arguably the finest book in American musical history. Stephen Sondheim wrote the lyrics, and at the insistence of Ms. Merman, Jule Styne wrote the music. Jerome Robbins directed and choreographed. The show, which opened in New York just following the 1958-59 cut-off, would be trounced in the 1959-60 season by The Sound of Music and Fiorello! in what is so far the one and only Best Musical tie in Tony history. Merman famously lost the Tony to Mary Martin, headlining the more crowdpleasing Sound of Music, with the infamous quip from Ethel: “You can’t buck a nun.” The musical play ran 702 performances in NY before Ethel Merman went out on national tour. This original cast album is a must-have for any musical theater lover. There are a lot of people who insist that Merman’s performance is subpar (many of whom didn’t actually see it, but I digress); however she delivers an electrifying performance on the album. She is ably supported by Sandra Church, Jack Klugman and Maria Karnilova as Tessie Tura. With all due respect to all other recordings that have come along, I don’t think the orchestrations by Robert Ginzler and Sid Ramin have ever sounded better than they do here. (Though let it be said, all recordings of Gypsy are required listening). Also, it’s only right to mention Dick Perry, a favorite of Jule Styne’s, who rocks out the improv section on the overture like none other. Perry also played on the original cast albums of Subways Are for Sleeping and Funny Girl, serving as soloist for “Cornet Man” and even receiving billing for it. His credits include several other big 60s musicals, as well as trumpet player in the original “Tonight Show” band.

I currently own the 1999 Sony release that cleaned up the album and restored part of “You Gotta Get a Gimmick.” The album included previously unreleased demos of songs from the score, including some cut numbers, an early version of “Some People” and a combination of “Mr. Goldstone” and a tender “Little Lamb” sung by Ethel. On May 5, the original cast album will be re-released yet again by Sony Masterworks in a new 50th anniversary edition. This new release includes all material on the 40th anniversary release, but will also include an audio clip of Michael Feinstein interviewing Jule Styne, as well as a track on which Gypsy Rose Lee herself looks back on burlesque. Yes, I’m seriously considering the upgrade. Also, Masterworks is planning a similar 50th anniversary release of The Sound of Music this fall.

Cut from the 2008 "Gypsy"

I was perusing the libretto of Gypsy last evening as I realized I haven’t read it in quite some time. Seeing the show onstage tends to give me an excuse not to. However, as I’ve said before, my one major qualm with the 2008-Patti LuPone Gypsy was the alterations made to the libretto. The following items were cut unless otherwise bracketed with the changes made. Some are inconsequential, but there are some moments, particularly the rather uproarious Kringelein scene and the “Small World” reprise that detract from the dimension of Rose.

Act One, Scene Two (“Home Sweet Home – Seattle”)
LOUISE: That’s dog food, Momma.
ROSE: That’s what she thinks. I’m hungry.
LOUISE: Then why didn’t you eat some of our chow mein after the show?
ROSE: Because you two did the work and we gotta save every cent.

Act One, Scene Six (“Happy Birthday – Akron”)
(A knocking on the door)
KRINGELEIN (Off): Madame Rose!
ROSE: I am not cooking in here, Mr. Kringelein. That cow –
KRINGELEIN (Knock): Open this door!
ROSE: I’m dressing. That cow –
KRINGELEIN (Knock): Madame Rose –
ROSE: I’ll call you when I’m finished. That dear fat cow looked me right in the eye and said: “Rose, if you want to get on the Orpheum Circuit, put me in your act.” Children, you know what I’m going to do?
YONKERS: You’re going to pay that crummy cow and not us!
ROSE: I ain’t paying anybody but I’m going to take that cow’s advice! I’m going to call the new act: Dainty June and her Farm Boys. I’m going to get more boys. I’m going to put that cow in the act –
(In the other room, KRINGELEIN – a pompous hotel manager – opens the door quietly, shuts it behind him and tiptoes to the doorway between the two rooms as:) and Chowsie and the monkey. And Louise’s present – if you don’t mind honey –
LOUISE: But Momma, I don’t even know what my present is!
KRINGELEIN (Haughtily): No cooking, Madame Rose?
ROSE: How dare you enter a lady’s boudoir without knocking?
KRINGELEIN (Advancing): Where’s your hot plate?
ROSE: Where’s your search warrant?
KRINGELEIN (Heading toward bathroom): In all the years I have been running a theatrical hotel –
ROSE (Opening corridor door): If you don’t leave, I’m going to scream!
(ONE OF THE BOYS darts to block the bathroom door)
KRINGELEIN (Pointing toward sign): You know the rules. No cooking. No electrical appliances. No – no pets other than small (Pushes kid out of the way) dogs or – (Opens the bathroom door. A little lamb in rubber drawers runs out between his legs and over to LOUISE)
ROSE: Happy birthday, darling!
ROSE: Profanity in front of my babies! June, get the Bible! Get the Bible!
(People in bathrobes and wrappers etc. begin to appear in the doorway, flowing into the room)
KRINGELEIN: You pack up this dirty menagerie and get out!
ROSE: You’ll have to throw me out, you rotten ANIMAL HATER! (To others) That’s what he is! Send for the SPCA!
KRINGELEIN: Send for the police! I rented these two rooms to one adult and three children! Now I see one adult! 5 pets and 1,2,3,4
ROSE: You counted him twice! (The KIDS are running in and out. SHE turns to the others) It’s a simple little birthday party for my baby –
ROSE: Chow mein. I’d offer you some but there’s only one egg roll –
KRINGELEIN: How many are sleeping in that room?
ROSE: What room?
KRINGELEIN (In doorway between two rooms): THIS room, Madame, THIS room!
ROSE (Pushing him in): There isn’t a soul in this room.
KRINGELEIN: Now you know what I –
ROSE (Closing door behind them): Except you and me. (She lets out a scream as she shoves him down onto the mattress on the floor) Mr. Kringelein, what are you trying to do?!! (Throws pillows and blankets on him) Mr. Kringelein! Stop! Help! Help! (She wrenches her robe open and staggers back into the other room where PEOPLE get a chair for her and ad lib as:) My babies! My babies! MONSTER! Thank you, Gladys. A little birthday party – chow mein – a tiny little cake –
(LOUISE, with her lamb, goes into other room during this. KRINGELEIN is getting out of the snarl of blankets and exits)
HERBIE’S VOICE (From hall): Rose! Rose! Are you all right? (He enters room and pushes his way to ROSE’s side) Rose! What’s happened? Are you ok, honey?
ROSE (Straightening herself): Sure! Where have you – (Then remembering) Herbie. Mr. Kringelein, the hotel manager, he – he tried to – to –
HERBIE (A cynical eye): Again?
(Straightens up and starts for other room)
ROSE: Well, I had to do something Herbie, don’t you dare apologize to him!

Act Two, Scene Two (“The Bottom – Wichita”)
TESSIE: You know, from the way that dame walks, she would have been a damn good stripper in her day.

[changed to:
TESSIE: She’s your mother?
LOUISE. Yes. She’s my mother.]

MAZEPPA (Belligerently): Something wrong with stripping?

[given to Electra]

Act Two, Scene Four
(PASTEY races out. ROSE touches the place where HERBIE kissed her, and then sings:)
Lucky, you’re a man who likes children
That’s and important sign.
Lucky, I’m a woman with children –
Funny, small and funny –
(ROSE gets up and slowly walks to the white gloves. She has them in her hand, and is glaring at them as LOUISE comes out and takes the gloves from her. ROSE watches her start to put them on, the speaks quietly, as though dazed…)

ROSE (Softly): You look beautiful!
TESSIE (Runs on with an old fur stole which she wraps around LOUISE): For luck, honey!
ROSE: Are you nervous?
LOUISE: …What?
ROSE: I said Are you nervous, Baby?
LOUISE: No, Mother.

Act Two, Scene Five (Louise’s Dressing Room)
ROSE: You won’t be ready when vaudeville comes back.
LOUISE: No, I’ll be dead. (Then, indicating the furs she has thrown on a chair) Renee, tell Sam he can lock up the animals for the night.

Act Two, Scene Six (Backstage)
ROSE (Tough with herself, too, she shakes her head) If I could’ve been, I would’ve been. And that’s show business… Listen. About that school – I could open one – for kids, like you said. Only – kids grow up. And twice is enough… I guess I did do it for me.
LOUISE: Why, Mother?
ROSE: Just wanted to be noticed.
LOUISE: Like I wanted you to notice me. (ROSE turns and looks at her) I still do, Momma.
(She holds out her arms to ROSE, who hesitates then comes running to her like a child. LOUISE pats her, kisses her hair as she says) It’s ok, Momma. It’s ok, Rose.
(ROSE clutches her, then moves away. Forces a smile as she turns back)

[They’ve streamlined this exchange, taking out “Listen. About that school…. And twice is enough” as well as dropping the line “I still do, Momma.”]

ROSE (Stops moving): Only it was you and me, wearing exactly the same gown. It was an ad for Minsky – and the headline said: (She traces the name in the air)
(Louise gives her a look; ROSE catches it, and moving her hand up to give LOUISE top billing, says:)
(They both begin to laugh as they walk off and – )

[The change here comes in the staging and characterization. As originally written there is a sense of understanding between the two of them and they walk off to the party together. In the revival, Rose is still in the midst of her delusions as she says this. Louise laughs, shakes her head and walks off in hysterics, leaving Rose onstage in her own world of hopelessness, maniacally reaching for the out of reach, broken down “ROSE” sign. The orchestration has been slightly altered for this sequence, with the piano now starting the final phrase of “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” for the curtain.]

"The Ecdysiast Play"

Oh you know the one I mean. Where crazed patrons choke one another. Where vents fall from the ceiling and light bulbs explode. Oh, and curtains come down on Laura Benanti. Yes. It’s the latest revival of Gypsy. It’s a little strange for me since it’s the first time I’ve seen a second production of a show on Broadway (especially in so short a lapse between). Bernadette Peters. Remember her? Well, anyway, Gypsy is welcome back on the Rialto anytime, as far as I’m concerned. And tonight was one of those electric nights where everything aligned for that certain 5’2″ bundle of dynamite, Ms. Patti LuPone in what early ads were referring to “the role she was born to play.” They were not wrong.

Patti came.
Patti saw.
Patti conquered.

Taking the early mold of her previous experiences with the musical, both at the Ravinia Festival in ’06 (the start of the journey that culminates in her opening last night) and the City Center presentation last summer, LuPone has refined her character with the precision of a diamond cutter. Rose is a determined mother of two very lovely young girls that she thrusts into the throes of show business in an effort to assuage her own unfulfilled ambitions. It just screams musical comedy, no? Well, anyway. It’s genius. The score. The orchestrations (and that overture. yowza!) The book. It’s almost fool-proof (so why did you tamper with it, Mr. Laurents?) You follow through Rose, the character as she goes from unmitigated determination (“Some People”) through desperation when she uses Louise in an effort to mask her emotional scarring and fear of failure (“Everything’s Coming Up Roses”) through her eventual breakdown when confronted with the reality that both show business and daughters have passed her by (her defeat: “Rose’s Turn”). Might I add, Patti’s diction was almost too perfect (not a problem, just an observation) and her vocals were the best I’ve ever heard live. Just for the record.

From Mr. Brantley, who was decidedly mixed this summer:

“When Ms. LuPone delivers “Rose’s Turn,” she’s building a bridge for an audience to walk right into one woman’s nervous breakdown. There is no separation at all between song and character, which is what happens in those uncommon moments when musicals reach upward to achieve their ideal reasons to be. This Gypsy spends much of its time in such intoxicating air.”

Nuance, chemistry and impressively layered acting abounds. From Patti. From Laura. From Boyd. From Leigh Ann. From Nemora. From Alison. From Tony. All of whom are superlative in their roles. (For my money, Laura, Boyd and Tony are definitive in theirs). As for the ending, I’m not really sure what I think. I guess if you tamper with what has been for years, you’re bound to notice. But on the flip side, the staging of the new ending is a bit more naturalistic and honed into the unresolved rift between mother and daughters. It’s not really going to make or break the experience. That happened five minutes before.

Did I mention, it was opening night? Yep. Noah and I sat in the balcony behind a deluded crone and her rude mother. One insisted on leaning forward the entire show and the other chimed in with an extensive crinkling of a candy wrapper, for literally the entire show; except when she leaned forward. That group clearly had no idea what was going on and looked out of water when the crowd continually went to pieces, especially the overwhelming standing ovation received at the end of the “Turn.” Thankfully it didn’t detract too much from the overall experience. Kari and Sarah were also among the first nighters reveling in what was a thrilling experience. Post show, we had dinner at Angus McIndoe’s. As Kari and I sat waiting like wallflowers for Noah and Sarah while they kibbitzed, I spotted none other than Mr. Stephen Sondheim at the bar. Kari and I immediately made our way over; not to speak with him make no mistake, but to sit near at the bar like the total theatre geeks we became in about, oh I don’t know, 3 seconds. (Kari surreptitiously snapped a photo with her iphone – and no one was the wiser. And she was literally trembling from her proximity to musical theatre’s living deity). Dinner was fantastic. The booze was fantastic – and I drank almost half a bottle of water – not a Poland Spring or Fiji, no I guzzled one the size of a large merlot bottle – as we made our way out. Pity it wasn’t vodka or gin. I might have had another act to my evening.

Those sighted: Angela Lansbury, Mandy Patinkin, Laura Linney (flawless with little to no makeup), Martha Plimpton, Corky from Life Goes On, Thomas Meehan, John Weidman. Others I probably had no clue were in the house. They even had a red carpet and an official opening night sticker on the playbill.

Oh, and after her curtain call, Patti LuPone lay fully prostrate onstage to her cast. It was that kind of event. Stephen Sondheim and Arthur Laurents got their props. And Sondheim gave a shout out to the late Jule Styne. (Class act). Though it appears Laurents gave Patti notes as they exited the stage…

Hey guys. Gypsy is back on Broadway. What the hell are you doing reading my blog? GET TICKETS AND GO NOW!!!!

An Open Letter to Arthur Laurents

Dear Mr. Laurents,

It comes to my understanding via Michael Riedel of the New York Post that you wish to see another Gypsy on Broadway within the remainder of your lifetime that will vanquish memories of the 2003 Sam Mendes production. Now, I myself enjoyed that particular production, especially since I had never seen the show live in a theatre before. (You’ll have to forgive me, Mr. Laurents, at 24, I’ve missed the Merman, Lansbury and Daly productions that left such indelible marks on theatrical lore). I was in the camp that thought Bernadette Peters was a thrilling Rose, who acted and sang the part with deft aplomb. At the closing performance, I was stunned to see the legendary overture get a standing ovation, thrilled when the audience rose en masse when Ms. Peters made her entrance, and scintillated by the moments which followed, which made for a delightful time at the theatre.

Now, I also became aware of Patti LuPone and her desire to play Rose, but that a begrudged feud between the two of you prevented her from playing any of your roles in New York, where you bear great weight in the casting of your productions. It was gratifying to hear that she was finally have her wish granted at the Ravinia Festival, which sparked enough interest for you to grant her the inestimable privilege of portraying Rose on the New York stage (specifically at the City Center).

It was a wonderful production. Filled with electricity from beginning to end, Patti gave Rose a down-to-earth determination and ferocity that exploded off the stage, particularly in her two showstoppers. (The gutteral scream at the end of the ‘Turn’ left an indelible mark on my experiences as your average theatregoer).

I worry though, that a rush to remount this production at the St. James Theatre in the spring may lead to a less-than-stellar run. In order for this to be successful, perhaps you can allow the entire script and score to be performed. The Kringelein sequence is hilarious and is what makes everything leading into “Mr. Goldstone” memorable. Not only is it a funny bit, but it also is shows how Rose can think and act on her feet. Also, reconsider the reprise of “Small World” in the second act. Rose deserves that brief moment to absorb the loss of Herbie; then bury her emotions. It was sorely missed. And lastly among these minor quibbles. Don’t tamper with the Turn. It’s one of, if not, the greatest eleven o’clock numbers in the history of the musical theatre genre. Cutting even a few bars like you did was jarring to the ear, b/c one expects the full piece. Fortunately it didn’t diminish the impact the number had, but still, Mr. Laurents, was cutting it that necessary?

I know you wouldn’t agree as your opinions and attititudes over the years have remained self-serving and well, megalomaniacal. I figure since Gypsy is the last impressive work you’ve ever written for the theatre, you would want it presented it with the originality and with every word intact. Let’s face it, your books for Gypsy and West Side Story are among the most regarded in the canon, with My Fair Lady and Guys and Dolls being only other examples who are as well regarded. Hell, given the reception the show receives every time it is staged, it’s regarded with a reverence generally provided only for Shakespeare.

So put those generous moments back into the show. Regardless of what you may think, Patti is a big girl and knows her stuff and she will acquit every word with eager discipline and creativity. While we’re at it. Don’t think of casting anyone else as Herbie and Louise, as Boyd Gaines and Laura Benanti may well be the definitive interpreters of their respective roles.

And while you’re at it, record a cast album. Spring for sets. Costumes. Fill the space. Use the space. If we’re getting a full production, make it worth the $120 a person will pay. And make sure it’s good.

Best of luck to you in this and all other future endeavors (especially your revival of West Side Story).

Theatre Aficionado (At Large)

PS – While we’re on the subject, when may we expect a revival of Nick & Nora?