Gypsy Review

I have a million things to write about tonight.

My Gypsy review.

My St. Patrick’s Day thoughts.

My night at work.

My sprained ankle.

Another Dining Out 101 post.

Another Meme.

My review of Drunk Enough to Say I Love You.

Internet News.

And it’s 3:16. I guess I have to choose something.

Since it’s been on the queue for the longest amount of time I’ll do that.
I should start by saying that Gypsy was the first play that I was ever a part of. In my sophomore year of high school I was cast as Pop, Mama Rose’s father in our spring musical. It was my first time on stage and I was thrilled. I think I learned all my lines in exactly two minutes. Of course I only had 12 lines, but they were important. How many times in your life do you get to say, “You ain’t getting eighty-eight cents from me, Rose! I got to have my hair grayed and it was great. So needless to say I’m partial to the show.

I have also seen the show too many times to count. I saw the revival with Tyne Daly. The revival with Bernadette Peters. The movie with Rosalind Russell. The TV movie with Bette Midler. A touring company. A couple of community productions. And a couple of college productions. Anytime the opportunity presents itself to me, I will go out of my way to see the production.

I was also very excited that Patti Lupone was starring in the latest version of the show. I’m a big queer and I love me some diva’s. And let’s face it Patti is a diva. I loved her in Sweeney Todd and I’ve been listening to Evita for a million years. I also have a recording of her doing The Baker’s Wife and her version of Meadowlark on that CD is incredible. So I had high hopes for this revival.

The show is being directed by Arther Laurents. He wrote the book for the production, so you would kind of expect him to understand the nuances of the show. I would think that he and Jule Styne, and Stephen Sondheim and Jerome Robbins figured out what the play was about in its first run and let’s face it there’s little you could do to perfect it. I’m also sure that Ethel Merman helped figure out some of this. There’s actually a story about her coming in one day after two or three weeks of constant changes in the script and announcing to the entire theatre that the show was locked. She wouldn’t accept any more changes. And that was that.

So I was expecting the best from this show.

And now for the review.

In a nutshell. It sucked.

The direction was just bad. Across the board there was choices made by the actors and designers that just didn’t work. And I have to wonder if they were choices they made or choices that were made to appease the director. I’ve never seen a production of the show where Mama Rose rolled around on the floor. I’ve never seen a production where Rose and Herbie kissed. I’ve never seen a production where the show was cut. I’ll cover each of these points in a moment. I just think that Arthur Laurents has become senile. Or just plain crazy.

And so in no particular oder…

The orchestra was on stage. I don’t have a problem with this. A lot of shows are reconceived and the designs are changed to reflect these choices. I’ve seen a million shows where the musicians have been on stage. In fact watching the orchestra play the overture to Gypsy was amazing. It was dramatically lit and having the trumpeter stand for his solos was very theatrical. Here’s the problem. The orchestra and the conductor are upstage behind the cast. And yet at least 42 million times someone in the show gestures, speaks to or makes a request of the conductor. And this is done by gesturing toward the pit. And there’s no one there. Because he’s thirty feet upstage of them. It annoyed the fuck out of me.

Patti over enunciated everything she said in the first thirty minutes she was on stage. At first I thought she was trying to affect some sort of accent. But it became apparent that it was just the way she was speaking. It reminded me of the vocalization exercises that actors do before they go onstage. This also bothered the fuck out of me.

The animals were fake. Huh? I almost think this was a way to cut costs. When you use real animals on stage, you have to have a wrangler who keeps up with them and keeps them safe. Perhaps that was the reason they used stuffed animals. But it didn’t work. Rose is supposed to carry Chowsie her dog almost everywhere she goes. In the first scene she hands the dog off to Jocko to hold while she takes control. No amount of jiggling the stuffed animal will make it look real. It was clearly bought at Toy-R-Us. And I thought this was bad until I saw what they did with the lamb. In the middle of Act One Louise is given a REAL lamb as a birthday present that is to be used in the Farmboy scene that takes place later. And then she sings a song to the lamb called Little Lamb. It’s hard to cut the lamb without making a lot of changes to the show. So when the lamb was walked across the stage and it was a stuffed animal with sticks that an actor was bouncing up and down to give the appearance that it was walking. I almost fell out of my chair laughing. I don’t know what else to say. Get a real lamb for god’s sake. This too bothered the fuck out of me.

There was dialogue and scenes cut from the show. As I said the show was perfected nearly almost 50 years ago. What needs to be changed. If you are worried about the running time, do a shorter play. A different play. Don’t cut a show that everyone knows. And don’t think we didn’t notice. If I wanted to see a show that was different every time I saw it, I’d go see Shakespeare. Or Chekhov. I think the cut that bothered me the most though was Rose’s reprise of funny. She sings this right after Herbie walks out on her. It’s a very touching moment and shows that Rose just might not be as calloused as we think. But alas they must not have agreed with me on this one. And this too bothered the fuck out of me.

My second favorite number in the show is “Gotta Have A Gimmick.” And boy did they fuck this one up. First Electra plays the entire scene as if she’s drunk. And this is even more apparent when she starts singing. I couldn’t tell is she was just old, or on something or what. I know it was a choice, but clearly it was a bad one. I’ve watched at least five different versions on You Tube and NO one has ever played this song in such a was to get laughs. And that was what I thought they were doing. Just playing for the laughs.

There were also a number of times that people laughed this maniacal laugh that was just bizarre and disturbing. Herbie did it at least two or three times in the scene where he meets Rose. Louise did it at the end of the show. And Rose does it a couple of times. I couldn’t quite figure out what they were trying to do.

A production note that bothered the fuck out of me was the use of lighting as scenery. There is nothing wrong with this of course. It’s done all the time. But be consistent. If some of the signs are going to be lighting, then make them all that way. Don’t do the ones that you no longer have room for because the orchestras on stage and there’s no more room downstage for the scenery.

At NO TIME should Rose roll around of the floor. She is a grand dame. She is a every bit the lady. To see her rolling around on the floor during the “You’ll Never Get Away From Me” number just insane. Surely, some one should have pointed this out to the director. It was just BAD.

And in the same scene Rose and Herbie kiss. In the twelve million productions that I’ve ever scene Rose and Herbie NEVER kiss. That’s part of her character. Rose keeps Herbie hoping that he’ll get the prize if he does just one more thing. And he does it and he doesn’t get the prize. Eventually he gives up and walks out. But never, never does he get kissed by Rose.

And Herbie only sings fourteen lines in the whole play. It’s the only musical I know where the male lead doesn’t need to sing. Herbie’s singing comes in the “You’ll Never Get Away From Me” number. He should NOT sing in “Mr. Goldstone”. Not at all. He should not act out what comes next in the “Mr. Goldstone” number. The song is all Rose. Just like the other 90% of the show.

I was also kind of confused as to why the orchestra was shown in the “All I Need Is the Girl” number and especially in “Rose’s Turn.” I’m assuming it was for dramatic effect, but it clearly took away from what was happening on stage and was suddenly about the orchestra. If I wanted to pay to see an orchestra I go see the New York Philharmonic.

Because the orchestra was on stage, when Rose comes out for the big number of the show, “Rose’s Turn” the stage isn’t bare. At that point, you should be able to see all the way to the back wall and she’s standing on a completely empty stage. The expanse of the stage and her loneliness on it makes up a large part of the song. To cut that area in half and have it be in front of a cyc is not exactly the same thing.

Gypsy is known for stressing the “tease” in striptease rather than the “strip.” She spoke to her audience in an intellectual style and did not bump and grind the way the other strippers did. She never appeared nude and it was the illusion of her nudity that was her “gimmick. In the course of the show there is a moment when Gypsy is hidden behind the curtain and drops her dress. Then she pulls the curtain closed never revealing her nudity. This is in every production of the show, including my high school production. But I guess they didn’t see the importance of it. Instead Gypsy was seen almost completely naked standing on stage while the curtains telescoped in around her.

The thing I hated most about the show was that the characters were caricatures not real people. From Rose over acting to Electra acting like she was on drugs, to Baby June just being plain bad, none of these people were real people. That’s way the crazy laughs bothered me so much. If you don’t buy that these people are real, then the play doesn’t work. They are very real. With feelings. And dreams. And hopes. The minute we fail to see this is the moment that show falls apart.

And this was never more apparent than in Rose’s Turn. Patti played it as if she were crazy. At one point she was spinning around and the look on her face was similar to Bette Davis in “Whatever Happened To Baby Jane.” She looked completely bonkers. There was no revelation. There was no epiphany. There was no sadness. No anger. Just craziness. At this point I was done with the show. There was nothing anyone could have done to save it.

And then the show ends. In every production including both movies, and all the versions I’ve ever seen, Rose and Gypsy walk off stage together to go the party. They have reconciled their relationship and we are left to believe that things will be okay. Gypsy is finally a grown-up. Rose finally realizes that her baby is no longer a baby. Oh, but oh, that was not how it was played in this production. With Patti, Rose is left on stage, looking up at her Rose sign and being crazy once again. It took everything I had not to run screaming from the theatre.

And then there was curtain call. And curtain call. And curtain call. And curtain call. And curtain call. The audience had stopped applauding and yet they were still raising the curtain to give us some more. Enough already. It’s not the opera. And Patti’s not THAT much of a diva. Close the fucking curtain so I can go home.

And that is my review of Gypsy. Sorry it’s so long but I hated most of it. And trust me, you’ll be glad I saved you the 110 dollars.

3 thoughts on “Gypsy Review

  1. Mike March 19, 2008 / 05:34

    I am saddened by this, and happy I couldn’t make the flight. 😉

    The curtain call sounds like the typical Orlando audience at the Bob Carr. These hicks stand up for every performance, no matter how bad.

  2. Michael March 19, 2008 / 20:54

    This is so disappointing to read! I can’t believe it. Poor Patti–she deserved a first rate production.

  3. Lemuel March 20, 2008 / 06:36

    I appreciated the detail of your critique. Every bit of it appeared to be valid and it does seem astounding that a production of a play such as this should be so modified from what is commonly expected from its fans. It seems to only go to prove that “just being different” is rarely better. – or – “if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it.”

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