Monday, March 31, 2008

Cockeyed, maybe. Optimist? not so much.

So, Ben Brantley loves the new LUPONE GYPSY production. Somewhere between finishing the Encores! run and starting the Broadway one, he reports, Patti started playing the character, instead of just playing herself playing the character. I'm inclined to believe him, since his memory of her Encores! performance squares with mine: at that time, he writes, "...this powerhouse actress gave a diffuse, narcissistic performance that seemed to be watching itself in a mirror." Now, he says, things have changed: "If in the Encores! version of “Gypsy,” Ms. LuPone seemed to be trying on and discarding different aspects of Rose as if they were party hats, she has now settled on a single, highly disciplined interpretation that combines explosively contradictory elements into a single, deceptively ordinary-looking package."

That sounds very tempting, I must admit. It almost makes me want to run out and buy tickets. Almost, but not quite. Because I ran out to buy tickets for that diffuse, narcissistic performance last summer, and left feeling a bit cheated. And now I'm afraid I'm suffering from Gypsy fatigue. It was, after all, not even five years ago that I saw the last Broadway revival of Gypsy, the one that starred Bernadette Peters, and that was enough to keep me satisfied for a long while. Ben Brantley loved that production too, by the way, but (surprise!) his review focused squarely and solely on the leading lady, even more than his review of the current production does. I love Bernadette more than most, but she wasn't the only thing Sam Mendes's production had going for it. Brantley barely noticed Tammy Blanchard, who played Louise, while I couldn't take my eyes off her -- her performance was so honest and naked and thoroughly realized. (At least, it was by the time I saw the show, more than six months later.) She broke my heart every time she was onstage. Laura Benanti's Louise, in the Encores! production, was disappointing by comparison. Maybe all this rehearsal time has made the difference for her too, but I'm not in a hurry to find out. To me, the decision to put this production on Broadway felt, and still feels, like it was made by Momma Rose herself in a "Coming Up Roses" moment. Unnecessary? Unlikely to make money? Ha! Finished?! We're just beginning... And nothin's gonna stop us till we're through!

Speaking of things Broadway doesn't need: are you rushing to get your seats for the Lincoln Center revival of South Pacific? Yeah, neither am I. A couple years ago I caught an airing of the recent Carnegie Hall concert version -- the one that starred Brian Stokes Mitchell and Reba McIntyre -- on PBS. It probably goes without saying that they were in the middle of a membership drive at the time, and they broke in at one point to interview Stokes himself, visiting the studio to show his support for public television. The well-meaning but clueless anchor gushed about what a great show South Pacific is and asked if this production might end up on Broadway, since the show was so obviously ripe for revival. Watching at home, I said, "God, no!" But Stokes was more diplomatic, answering carefully, gently, that South Pacific is just a little bit, er, dated, and that in this case the concert format is perhaps the best venue. Amen, brother. But Bartlett Sher isn't afraid to referee the contest between book and score (which will win?!), and Lincoln Center isn't afraid of the money it will bring in by presenting the "first-ever Broadway revival" of the neglected-for-a-reason South Pacific. So we'll have a couple contenders for the "Least Necessary Revival of a Musical" category this year.

I guess I'm going through a cynical phase -- I'm having trouble working up excitement about much on Broadway at the moment. But you know what I am excited about? Next season's revival of Godspell! Necessary? Perhaps not. Potentially disastrous? Absolutely. And maybe, by the time it rolls around, I'll be cringing. But for now my hopes are high, not least because the extremely appealing Gavin Creel has signed on to play Jesus. Who wouldn't follow him?

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