Saturday, April 5, 2008
I got chills. Patti LuPone as Momma Rose, especially in the final number, is so powerful she’s almost frightening. I always knew she was a gifted singer and actress, but in this role she gets to prove it more emphatically than ever. She’s astonishing.
In Patti’s hands, Rose is far more human than I’ve ever seen her. She’s not just that toxic mother we all know her to be. Patti makes her playful and gives her a sense of humor, which really come through when she sings “Small World” to Herbie (the always wonderful Boyd Gaines). It’s much easier here to see why he falls in love with her and puts up with so much. And I can believe that she does love him and her children, in her way. It’s just not the way in which they need to be loved.
In contrast, I’ve never heard such darkness under the seemingly cheery “Everything’s Coming Up Roses.” It’s clear any tenderness she has will always be smothered by her ruthlessness.
Laura Benanti is also compelling as Louise. It’s heartbreaking when she looks in the mirror the first time she dresses up as Gypsy and, with surprise and awe, says softly: “Mamma, I’m pretty.”
And it’s moving when, in her confrontation with Rose at the end, she tells her mother that all she ever wanted was for her to notice her. A light bulb seems to go off in Rose and for a moment she is filled with regret for all the years she missed really seeing her older daughter. When they embrace, it’s as two people who do love each other. But., as you know, a warm, intimate mother/daughter relationship is not to be. Rose will go down to the finish lashing out, still screaming to be heard.
In the hands of these two actresses, and the marvelous supporting cast, Gypsy is more than a story of one overwhelmingly controlling mother. It’s about heavily damaged people trying to conquer, and ignore, their emotional pain and move along as best they can. They are very real, and maybe a lot more like our own families than we ever realized.