Wednesday, June 18, 2008

"Everything's Coming Up Laura"

As per the tradition, I attended a post-Tony performance for the second year in a row (last year was Grey Gardens, where the entrance applause at the top threw the entire prologue off-track and Christine Ebersole received a standing ovation on her act two entrance). It was the revival of Gypsy, you know, the one with the short broad who sings loud? For those of you who know, Patti LuPone, Boyd Gaines and Laura Benanti were all recipients of the Tony award the other evening for their work in this production. A whole gang of us ended up at the show - which included a pre-show dinner at Angus'.

The kineticism in a post-Tony win house is indescribable. A mutual admiration society develops between the kids onstage and the kids in the house. The overture began, always a crowd favorite. I noticed Patti LuPone had entered the house with a small stage management entourage and proceeded to get prepared to go on. I had deja vu flashbacks to the final performance of the 2003 revival. On her cue, LuPone vaulted down the aisle of the St. James to the reception of a standing ovation from the crowd. To assuage the fans, she broke and took a very short, humble bow, then got back to work. And here is where I express my disappointment. I had an almost immediate sinking feeling as she began her lines. In the first several scenes, LuPone overshot the runway. Her deliveries were extravagantly broad, and she was playing to the house, not for character. "I hope they didn't make a huge mistake Sunday night" was the thought that crossed my mind just before "Some People" (which is where the normalcy seemed to return to her performance). Well, it's not a huge mistake. Either she brought it back down, or I adjusted to her style because from that point onward I was okay with her performance.

Boyd Gaines and Laura Benanti received extensive applause. Gaines is very amiable onstage - the perfect Herbie, unlikely to be better realized by other actors. For the latter, it was so lengthy, the alarm clock sound cue went to the intermission cell phone cue. (I sat just in front of the sound booth during the first act; second row center for the second). The audience was very genuinely moved when Benanti spontaneously burst into tears at the reception. Of course, that also proved to be the moment that Benanti gave the shining star-turn performance of the decade.

If I live to be 115, I will never see "The Strip" so brilliantly executed. Benanti was, if anything, even better than the previous two times I'd seen her in the production. Her moments - discovery of kinship with June in "If Momma Was Married," the crush on Tulsa - how "All I Need is the Girl" is there for her (great point, Noah), the devastation in the act one finale - both of Tulsa's marriage to June, and how that sets off her mother. Not to mention the moment she realizes she has an ally and the potential for the normalcy she's desired in Herbie. Then came the second act, with her refreshingly honest take on the dialogue, mining the moments without overshooting her runway. Dimensionalizing where so few have dared before. Many tears onstage and in the house when she looked into that mirror and realized she was pretty. And how. Her "Strip." The awkwardness and almost disgust at what's she doing, until she realizes she has the audience in the palm of her hand. It's a miraculous moment as you see the shades of her confidence grow - and turn into superstardom. It's all sorts of funny and sexy - her acting is superb. In the dressing room scene, she dominated Patti. The awkward silence that followed was brittle, real and ripe with the tension and embarrassment that follow confrontations of that calilber. How moving though, was the scene following "Rose's Turn"? I can't get over it. She is the heart and soul of this revival. Patti, for all her intensity (her ferocious "Turn" received the usual Routledge - an emotional tour de force so expected at this point, it's almost cliche - relax, I said almost) and pathos, just wasn't the highlight for me last night. It was Benanti, hands down.

I did enjoy the second act on the whole, more than the first. I made eye contact with both Patti and Laura. I winked at Patti, swooned over Laura. And the story goes on.

However, the show could use a stage manager or Mr. Laurents himself to give some notes. Actors should be allowed to test the waters during a long run, but they should also remember that it is their job first and foremost to tell the story. Leigh Ann Larkin is going over the top with her monotone Louise (particularly in the office scene). The show ran long last night, till eleven, and not just because of the standing ovations. Other stage business is superfluous and detrimental to the experience. And let's be real about this, kids- Gypsy doesn't need any help, just the restoration of the original libretto. Rose loses facets of dimension without the Kringelein scene and the necessary "Small World" reprise after Herbie walks out (among other bits that have been altered).

As I was walking away from the St. James towards Times Square, I passed Anderson Cooper the moment Patti came out of the stage and the stage door crowd's roar echoed through the cavernous city block. His look was priceless and I only wish I'd had a camera for it.

1 comment:

Esther said...

Thanks so much for the detailed report! I became a huge Laura Benanti fan after seeing her at Encores last summer. I'd heard all the rumors beforehand, people questioning how she'd do, and afterward, I was thinking, how could there be any question? She was amazing. Took my breath away.

I love stories in which a character goes on a life-changing journey, and this was the best transformation I've seen on stage. It's almost like you couldn't believe it was the same person, the way she moved from awkward, shy teenager to confident, glamorous stripper. I've seen it twice now and it still blows me away. (I think the costume design for each stage of her life really helps advance the story, too).

I'm really happy for her, especially after listening to her Downstage Center interview a few weeks ago, where she talked about the injury she suffered during Into the Woods, how she was misdiagnosed for so long. She's gone through a lot and she's a real trouper!