‘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.

‘Darling of the Day’ – The Union Theatre

DOTD Finale

One of the reasons I planned my trip to London when I did was to see the first staged UK production of Darling of the Day at the Union Theatre in Southwark. The tiny London theatre has been noted for limited season revivals of various musicals in its small black box space, and I felt compelled to make the trip because there haven’t been many opportunities to see this show, with a score by Jule Styne and Yip Harburg, since its Broadway failure in early 1968.

Based on the novel Buried Alive by Arnold Bennett, Darling of the Day tells of an esteemed painter named Priam Farll who returns to London after an extended absence only to discover he’s to receive a royal welcome: knighting, galas, dinners, audiences with royalty; all things he despises. Upon the sudden death of his valet Henry Leek, Farll seizes the opportunity to “get out of the world alive” as he puts it and swaps places with the deceased. Matters are complicated by a lovely Putney widow named Alice Challice, who has been corresponding with Leek through a matrimonial agency. Romance and farcical hijinks ensue.

The musical was a bit of a fiasco in late 1967 and early 1968, going through a slew of directors, choreographers and writers before opening on Broadway without a credited librettist (never a good sign). Vincent Price starred as the artist, with Patricia Routledge as the lovely widow. The show received some kind notices, but was buried in the NY Times by a second string critic. By the time Clive Barnes and Walter Kerr had both chimed in favorably, it was too late. Darling of the Day closed after 31 performances. A few months later, Routledge won a Tony (shared in a rare tie with Leslie Uggams) for Best Actress in a Musical.

Unavailable for amateur licensing in the United States, the musical has languished in obscurity for many years. There have been concert revisions presented at Musicals in Mufti in 1998 and 2005, as well as a couple of rare regional productions. However, the musical has most lived on with the cognoscenti because of its superb original cast album, featuring the show’s two best assets: its lovely, rich score and Patricia Routledge, who is one of musical theatre’s most unsung heroines. This is the show that introduced me to the vocal wonder of Routledge, and I’ve long hoped for the opportunity to see a production of the show.

I had been following the progress of the show via Twitter, where I’d been interacting with director Paul Foster, musical director and arranger Inga Davis-Rutter and my beloved Rebecca Caine, who was cast as unscrupulous art collector Lady Vale. In the weeks and months leading up to the production’s premiere, I was following their missives from rehearsals and had some wonderful online discussions with Foster about the script and lyrics, and with Davis-Rutter about the instrumentation and vocal arranging she was going to be doing for the show. As a matter of fact, Davis-Rutter saw me in line for the show, introduced herself and proceeded to give me a whirlwind pre-show tour of the theatre, where I got to meet many of the actors during their warm-up.

The intimacy of the Union Theatre puts the audience close enough to the performers to feel as if you are in the scenes with them (most notably the Putney bar where Alice and co. kick it up). Foster’s production focused on the unlikely and enchanting romance between Priam and Alice, giving the show a great, big heart as well as some choice laughs. Matt Flint’s choreography was superb, and in many cases, downright surprising because of the limited performance space, most notably the barroom showstopper “Not on Your Nellie.”

The original book isn’t as much a liability as one might think. There are certain elements that don’t work, most notably its Gilbertian climax and ending. However, pushing past the farcical elements, there is a lovely and tender relationship at the show’s center and while it pokes satiric fun at upper classes, there is tremendous charm. Foster was given three versions of the script to use, and ultimately used the 1968 Broadway script (written by Nunnally Johnson, who refused opening night credit), aside from minor trims from that script, and the use of “An Extra Little Shilling” in place of “That Something Extra Special,” the text ran pretty much along the lines seen at the George Abbott Theatre in ’68. Foster also included “I’ve Got a Rainbow Working for Me,” which was excised from the Musicals in Mufti revision.

James Dinsmore infused Priam with dry sense of humor and class, and unlike Vincent Price, can actually sing. Katy Secombe made the audience fall in love with her the moment she opened her mouth. Secombe’s more of a Cockney belter; a contrast to the Routledge’s soprano, but everything about her performance worked beautifully – sort of the warm, charming woman young Cosette would wish Madame Thenardier to be. Caine was impeccably droll as Lady Vale, bringing unexpected and welcome soprano flourishes to the role. The entire production was superbly cast. The ensemble was packed with exceptional singers, with more harmonies than I can remember from other incarnations of the score that I have heard. A stand-out among his peers was Matthew Rowland, who played Alice’s Cockney pal Alf, a far departure from Mr. Rowland’s recent stint as Boy George in Taboo.

As I saw the show on its closing night, I was invited to join the cast in the Union Theatre’s accompanying bar for a drink. The cast was aware of me, and that I was coming to see the show – something that took me a bit by surprise. I had some lovely chats about the show and its score, and got to tell everyone just how much I enjoyed their production, and how much it meant to me to see it. I also had the opportunity to chat with Secombe and her brother Andy, also in the company, about their father: the late, great Harry Secombe. Hearing their stories growing up with one of the great voices in musical theatre was thrilling (particularly hearing what the late Mr. Secombe thought of the abysmal film adaptation of Song of Norway). My night entered another realm entirely when Caine presented me with her copy of the script, which she had signed by the entire company. My cup runneth over. (Pic courtesy of Rebecca Caine).


One of the treasures of this experience was not only the opportunity to see a production of one my beloved forgotten shows, but also the chance to see a show in the Union. They have developed a reputation for their various productions, which receive consistently strong notices and are handsomely attended. The venue had been threatened with closure by its owner, who wanted to turn the theatre as well as other surrounding businesses into office space. That should never happen.

“Gentlemen Prefer Blondes”


For its third and final entry of the year, Encores! lightened things up considerably with a delightful production of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, the 1949 classic that made Carol Channing a star (and whose 1953 film adaptation featured some gal named Marilyn). The musical, with a highly entertaining score by Jule Styne and Leo Robin, is a 40s spoof of the 20s and is rather a flimsy affair. Everything will work out for our heroine Lorelei Lee and her pal Dorothy Shaw as they look for love. It just takes a meandering book (by Joseph Fields and Anita Loos) and a lot of specialty filler to get there. Said specialties are a delight, and it was wonderful to see a Golden Age musical staged with separate singing and dancing ensembles. This Encores production, nimbly directed by John Rando (with David Ives again doing the concert adaptation), was bright and breezy fun, but it also showed that the show as a whole doesn’t quite hold up so well.

Megan Hilty is a musical comedy dream. Her funny and sexy performance as Lorelei was captivating; whenever she was on stage you just had to look at her. Blessed with immense beauty and voice for days, Ms. Hilty took Lorelei’s two big solos (and their encores) and turned them into the evening’s high points (I still can see and hear her blissful delivery of the repeated line “The one who done me wrong” from “A Little Girl from Little Rock”). After the second encore of “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend,” the audience went into sheer euphoria, with thunderous applause and cheering that only increased with intensity and volume on Ms. Hilty’s entrance in the next scene. Whenever Lorelei isn’t center stage, the show isn’t as infectious, but fortunately the stellar supporting cast more than made up for that.

Rachel York brought considerable joy and sass as Dorothy, leading various production numbers including “It’s High Time,” the racy “I Love What I’m Doing” and the Charleston fueled eleven o’clock number “Keeping Cool with Coolidge.” Aaron Lazar was virtually unrecognizable as her nerdy Philadelphia stuff-shirt love interest (who gets the show’s few romantic ballads). Stephen Buntrock appeared as a fitness-crazed entrepeneur whose number is an unlikely tribute to fiber. A triumvirate from the recent revival of Blithe Spirit, Simon Jones, Deborah Rush and Sandra Shipley (Rush’s understudy), were on hand as the older generation bringing some expected laughs.

Randy Skinner, who provided the spirited choreography for the Encores! No, No, Nanette four years ago, once again showed he is one of the best with clever, creative and crowd-pleasing work that showed form and integrity. Unlike recent Golden Age revivals on Broadway, Skinner’s work never reeks of the “everything-but-the-kitchen-sink” desperation that make up what is purported to be a showstopper. The dance highlight was a tap speciality to “Mamie is Mimi,” at the top of the second, originally conceived for Atkins and Coles (Atkins would go on to win the 1989 Tony for Best Choreography for Black & Blue, Coles won Best Featured Actor in a Musical for My One and Only in 1983). Phillip Attmore and Jared Grimes brought down the house, along with Megan Sikora, in a tremendously dazzling display.

Don Walker’s orchestrations were fantastic, as were Trude Rittmann’s dance arrangements (lots of music that has never been recorded before). However, the evening really belonged to Hugh Martin. Mr. Martin, who basically created vocal arranging on Broadway, including the famous “Sing for Your Supper” trio in The Boys from Syracuse, created elaborate tight-knit vocal harmonies which were given impeccable musicianship by the singing ensemble.

With a book this flimsy, a Broadway transfer is not a particularly good idea and Encores! was the perfect venue. However, there is good news: a cast recording will be made. On the heels of PS Classics recording Merrily We Roll Along, and the Ghostlight’s live recording of Pipe Dream, this will mark the first time an entire Encores! season has been recorded since 1999.

Barbra Streisand in “Funny Girl” on Broadway

The first musical I ever appeared in was my high school’s production of Funny Girl eleven years ago. (I’ll save my first audition experience for another day). The show is something of an unusual choice for that scholastic level, as it requires a multifaceted leading lady who can sing, dance and act her way through ten of the show’s numbers and basically carry the entire evening. I was enthralled by the whole prospect, and ended up playing eight or nine different bit parts throughout the evening. (Every time they needed a body for something, I was always available).

It marked the first time I heard the thrilling Jule Styne-Bob Merrill score and how I acquired both the original Broadway cast album and film soundtrack for reference. (They followed the Westchester Broadway Theater’s lead and interpolated “Roller Skate Rag” and “I’d Rather Be Blue” in place of the “Cornet Man” – in hindsight, a really poor choice). What it taught me, though, is that an original cast album – especially in the Golden Age – didn’t capture every single moment. There were reprises, encores, dances, incidentals and underscoring that were left off the record (including my big solo, as Heckie the cab driver, leading the final section of “If a Girl Isn’t Pretty”). It also gave me the opportunity to examine the difference between a stage score and its adaptation for film. I really don’t like any of the songs added to the film (“My Man” is its own special case) and definitely miss “Who Are You Now” and the stunning “The Music That Makes Me Dance.”

Getting to the original, I have to confess I’m not the biggest Streisand fan. However, I do enjoy the youthfulness and zeal that went into her work up until around 1968. I enjoy “Miss Marmelstein” on the original cast album of I Can Get It For You Wholesale and her work on the Funny Girl cast album, but her singing from the film onward doesn’t really do it for me. The film adaptation of Funny Girl is entertaining if overlong and the less said about Hello, Dolly! and On a Clear Day You Can See Forever the better. (Don’t get me started on the rumored film remake of Gypsy; they’ll need to dust off the Lucy in Mame vaseline-coated lenses for that).

However, here are brief glimpses into the young starlet who created a sensation in NY as Fanny Brice and the production that ran for 13. It looks like someone’s home movies taken at the Winter Garden, the sound snippets sound like they are part of that legendary recording of Barbra’s final Broadway performance (where she sang “My Man” at the curtain call). Unlike other musicals with gargantuan leading lady turns like Gypsy, Funny Girl has had more difficulty getting a major revival as the role is so closely identified with Streisand (who lost the Tony, but won the Oscar). But then again in spite of a shared composer and some good songs, Funny Girl is no Gypsy. A Broadway revival is currently planned for 2012.





Showstopper: “The Beauty That Drives Men Mad”

Since Some Like It Hot is one of the funniest films of all time, you’d think that a musical comedy adaptation would follow suit. Well, it didn’t but that didn’t keep Sugar from being enjoyable. Jule Styne and Bob Merrill supplied the score; Gower Champion was the director. Robert Morse and Tony Roberts starred as the down-on-their-luck musicians on the run. Elaine Joyce had the least desirable job of the seeing – trying to live up to the legacy of Monroe. The show had trouble out of town and opened in NY to mixed reviews. Styne and Merrill’s score wasn’t very original or exciting, but it was tuneful and engaging. But on the strength of the original property and the Tony-nominated lead performance of Morse, the show ran 505 performances at the Majestic. The show continues to be licensed and is occasionally revived under the film’s title.

In 1998, Morse and Roberts donned the drag one more time for the Carnegie Hall special My Favorite Broadway: The Leading Ladies where they opened the show with their first act show-stopper “The Beauty That Drives Men Mad.” They were the only men on the bill that evening (and continuing in the gender bending theme that got things started, they were introduced by Julie Andrews in her Victor/Victoria tux.


Doin’ it for “Sugar”

Lo and behold, Bruce Kimmel has done it again. It seems every few weeks he’s going to push me further and further into the poor house with one of his now-essential limited edition cast album releases. This year has brought forth two different recordings of Promises, Promises and now his label Kritzerland has reissued the long out-of-print Sugar, the 1972 musical adaptation of the all-time classic Some Like It Hot. I first heard the score about six years ago, just as a good friend of mine was preparing to audition for the show at his college.

Some Like It Hot is one of the funniest movies ever made, with three iconic performances from Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis and an endearingly blowsy Marilyn Monroe under the superb direction of Billy Wilder. Comedian Joe E. Brown got one of his most famous roles – and one of the most famous last lines in film history – as the ultra wealthy, mother-worshiping Osgood Fielding, Jr. who sets his sights on Lemmon’s character. It ranks #1 on the AFI’s list of all-time comedies and is one of those rare films that only gets funnier and funnier with repeat viewings. A musical version was not much of a surprise; producer David Merrick was already responsible for smash hit Promises, Promises based on Wilder’s The Apartment.

However, the critical response wasn’t as enthusiastic for Sugar. There were troubles out of town and there were constant changes being made. But there was some bad blood between composer Jule Styne, lyricist Bob Merrill and director-choreographer Gower Champion (who were all fresh from the out-of-town failure Prettybelle). The show did, however, play well to audiences and managed a respectable 505 performance run, turning a modest profit. The show made its London premiere in 1992 starring Tommy Steele, revised and reverted back to the film’s title. Most recently, a 2002 national tour went out with Tony Curtis graduating into the Joe E. Brown role.

The score isn’t on par with Gypsy, or even for that matter, Subways Are for Sleeping or Darling of the Day. But even lesser Jule Styne is better than most – it’s ripe with fun, tuneful melodies that speak to old-school musical comedy. Ultimately, I don’t think a musical adaptation was particularly necessary – how can you improve on a popular classic? But that doesn’t mean the album doesn’t make for a fun listen. Things gets off to a marvelous start with a smashing overture, an amusing opener “Penniless Bums” and a rip-roarin’ burlesque showstopper “The Beauty That Drives Men Mad,” in which the duo make their first appearance in their alter ego drag. Robert Morse, from all reports, offered a comic tour de force onstage (in the Lemmon role) that folks still recall fondly. He registers best, particularly his half of the genial “We Could Be Close” (he does get some of the best lyrics).

Tony Roberts (stepping into the Curtis role) had some of the more serious and less memorable musical moments, including the ballad “It’s Always Love,” which to me feels like it was interpolated from another musical entirely. Elaine Joyce is pleasant, but has the unenviable task of trying to live up to Monroe’s legacy and cannot. Cyril Ritchard takes on the Joe E. Brown role of Osgood Fielding, Jr. His duet with Morse is hilarious. Sheila Smith, a reliable standby for Angela Lansbury (Mame), Elaine Stritch (Company) and several principle roles in Follies, has the opportunity to step into the limelight as the female bandleader.

The CD was original released by Rykodisc around the same time of the first CD release of Promise, Promises with similar aural deficiencies. The new release is another 2-disc special edition. The first disc is for purists, a cleaned up release of the original album mix. The second disc offers a remixed edition, bringing greater clarity to the performances, bringing out undiscovered colors in Phil Lang’s superb orchestration and bringing down the excessive reverb that was one of album producer Mitch Miller’s trademarks. (Speaking of Miller, don’t stop playing the second disc after the finale…there’s a surprise). The result is stunning. While I’ve known the score for five years, in a way it was like hearing it for the first time. Kimmel has written the accompanying liner notes, which delve into the show’s transition from screen to stage.

I’m always curious to hear Kimmel will bring out next. Almost all of the recent cast albums he has issued were originally United Artists record releases (now owned by MGM Records) and most are on CD for the first time. The original cast recording seems to become more and more of a niche market with each passing day. The sales of cast albums and the expense to produce them these days make it a risky endeavor. Some shows will recoup the costs, many don’t. Interest in many of the lost shows seems to be waning as avid collectors and show music enthusiasts seem to be disappearing. As someone who collects every show album I can get my hands on, I am always grateful when a new show gets recorded, but now I’m even more grateful when someone like Kimmel takes the initiative to bring out a show that has fallen into obscurity. (I do hope that he is able to release A Time for Singing).

It’s Enough to Make a Fellow Fall in Love

Here’s a press shot of Patricia Routledge in her Tony-winning performance as Alice Challice in the failed Jule Styne-Yip Harburg musical Darling of the Day. The show lasted 31 performances at the George Abbott Theater (now the site of the Michelangelo Hotel) in 1968. In spite of the musical’s fast failure (which lost an astronomical $750,000), there are many merits within the show and score; friends and fellow bloggers know that I have long championed a revival.

Alice Challice is something of an unsung heroine of the musical theatre. She’s warm, vibrant, vivacious and pragmatic – a young widow living quietly in Putney who refuses to conform to the loneliness of widowhood. Endeavoring to get married, she uses a marriage broker to establish a correspondence with a nobleman artist’s valet. The role calls for a sensible, yet fun-loving comic soprano, “youngish,” whose material runs the gamut from tender ballads to raucous music hall numbers. There aren’t too many theatre fans familiar with Alice, but if they were it’s likely they would fall madly in love with her.

The show, which was a troubled vehicle for Vincent Price (!), failed rather miserably. It was based on Arnold Bennett’s comic novel Buried Alive about a shy British artist (Price) who switches identities with his dead valet “get out of the world alive” In doing so, he also takes up the deceased’s association with the Widow Challice, with whom he falls in love. An expectedly convoluted farce ensues where he paints under his pseudonym and is found out by snobbish art dealers, when all hell breaks loose.

Out of town reception was rather bleak, with critical pans in Toronto and Boston (in the latter city, Peter Filichia said it was one of the worst musicals he had ever seen, but much improved when he saw it in NY). There was a lack of steady direction, with four directors, two choreographers and five bookwriters. (Nunnally Johnson removed his name prior to opening night leaving the libretto without a credit). In spite of all this trouble the musical actually received a surprising amount of positive reviews. The only full-out pan was the estimable New York Times. Clive Barnes opted out of reviewing the show for the paper and it went to second stringer Dan Sullivan instead, who filed his wholly negative assessment. Barnes himself actually visited the show shortly thereafter and looked on it favorably. The Times also had Walter Kerr in the show’s corner, offering his Sunday column as a valentine to her many abilities. Kerr gave the leading lady one of my favorite pull-quotes of all time: “If you don’t catch her act now, you’ll someday want to kill yourself.” (He immediately added “I’ll help you.”)

Lying in the rubble of the show was Routledge’s Tony win (an award she shared with Leslie Uggams of Hallelujah, Baby!) is the show’s original cast album, which is a charming delight and showcases two major assets – Routledge and the elegant and vibrant score by Styne and Harburg (Styne considered this his “Lerner & Loewe” score and his second favorite of his own musicals behind Gypsy). The show has been rather well-received recently in a couple of engagements at Mufti, which saw revisions made to the book and score in an attempt to refurbish the vehicle. Those revisions were supervised by Erik Haagensen, playwright and Backstage critic, who also made an attempt to fix Routledge’s other failed Broadway musical, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in the early 1990s.

There was a shoddy live recording made of the show’s opening night performance which plays like a raucous hit. The audience lapped up the stars, doling out entrance applause for the two above the title, as well as character actress Brenda Forbes. The most vociferous reactions were reserved for Routledge, who stopped the show with her first number “It’s Enough to Make a Lady Fall in Love, as well as her reflective “That Something Extra Special” towards the end of the first act. The actress all but reduced the theatre to rubble with her eleven o’clock number “Not on Your Nellie.” During her ovation for the latter (which lasted a full minute), she can be heard very faintly asking incredulously “Is this all for me?” then after a beat pleading the audience “Ladies and gentlemen, if you please.” The audience took this as a cue to give one more cheer before allowing the company to the continue.

As I sit here writing, I realize that the musical opened on this day forty-two years ago. It’s a show that isn’t licensed for stock/amateur performances and has had very few revivals, the RCA cast album has been out of print for many years, but has resurfaced recently via ArkivMusic. The show remains off the beaten path, a lost gem that has brought me a great deal of joy.

Should Encores! (as I want to hear those vibrant orchestrations from Ralph Burns) take up the show, there is only one person in my estimation who should play Alice Challice (and I have Ken Mandelbaum’s agreement on this front) and that is Victoria Clark. What strikes me the most about this particular press shot is the uncanny resemblance between Clark and Routledge, as they share a similar voice type, sensibility and the honor of the Best Actress in a Musical Tony. By extension, I think David Hyde Pierce is ideal for the artist. Then I’d toss in Gavin Lee for the music hall numbers, and Edward Hibbert and Judy Kaye as the noblesse-oblige for good measure.

Darling of the Day is a gem just aching for rediscovery.

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.

"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!!!!