Friday, April 11, 2008

When Women Ruled The World - Gypsy and Macbeth - Stage Reviews

Gypsy - St. James Theatre - Broadway, New York
Book by Arthur Laurents, Music by Jule Styne, Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, Directed by Arthur Laurents

Macbeth - Lyceum Theatre - Broadway, New York
By William Shakespeare, Directed by Rupert Goold

Let me preface this by saying that from what I've seen before (only the Bette Midler TV version they did a few years back) and heard (the Bernadette Peters recording from recently), I've never really liked Gypsy. I did remember liking Macbeth back when we had to read it for Grade 9 English but at this point, I don't remember much.

So the new revivals that just moved onto Broadway have been a bit of a re-introduction to "classics", and while I may still not be convinced that they are the best musical and play out there, the productions currently on Broadway certainly work their magic into convincing me that I saw something special.

So it was my virginal experience at Gypsy, the musical about Gypsy Lee Rose, the most glamouress burlesque (stripper) who retells the tale of her ultimate monstrous-controlling stage mom. I like the darkness of the story, but emotionally, it still didn't rip my heart out so while I liked it a lot more than what I knew of it before, I still didn't love the actual musical. Liked a lot, but not love. There's an invisible line somewhere and I can only feel when it crosses over (which, I admit, is rare). So it doesn't end up in my top 10 musical of all time, but maybe top 20 or 30. So yes, I'm stating it now, it is a good one but I don't think Gypsy is the BEST musical ever (despite the lucious score and clever lyrics). There, I said it. Moving on...

I did however enjoy this production a lot. Why? Because it was first time seeing Tony winning Broadway diva Patti LuPone (Evita, Sweeney Todd) on stage! It was my first time seeing Tony winner and always reliable Boyd Gaines (Contact, She Loves Me, Journey's End). It was my first time seeing new ingenue and Tony nominated Laura Benanti (The Wedding Singer, Into the Woods, TV's Eli Stone).

The entire cast was absolutely solid, with Leigh Ann Larkin doing a stupendous job in her Broadway debut as the grown up June, Tony Yazbeck (A Chorus Line, White Christmas) always as handsomdely nimble as ever, and a triple threat of Lenora Lemetz, Alison Fraser and Marilyn Caskey as the past-their-prime burlesque dancers.

Still, this show always belongs to Rose, the mother of all pushy mothers, and Patti LuPone proved to me why she's a star giving Rose an emotional depth I assumed the show didn't have. I could say the same for Boyd Gaines, but the biggest revelation was Laura Benanti who was simply radiant in the role of Louise, the naive and plain girl who changes to become Gypsy the stripper. Seriously, WOW! My only fault for her now? She wasn't on stage ENOUGH to sing. Since the show mostly belongs to Patti's Rose.

I'm still not used to watching some of these older classics (or usually being disappointed by them for not dating well), but there were some ingenious direction from the musical's original book writer himself, including a wicked cool transition scene where we see the young children Rose has taken on, grow into adults right before our eyes under some clever (yet simple) strobe-lighting effects.

Most of the rest of Gypsy was still told in the traditional musical theatre way, which was fine, but the show really belongs to its actors (even the ensemble was great) and for that, it was thrilling to watch. So for Gypsy, it would rank medium high on my all-time musical list, but this production certainly pushes it to a higher recommendation level than I would have ranked the musical itself.

As for Macbeth, I guess I can't really complain about the story or the writer at this point. It's not my say anymore, but this new production originally presented as part of the Chichester Festival (the same company that currently has a production of Nicholas Nickelby in Toronto) is visually stunning in its presentation, with some ingenius decisions by the director but I'm not sure that clarified any of the text, all which completely flew by me. Apparently I'm just not that smart. I still got the gist of everything (as my memory was maddly trying to remember grade 9 English) but there were passages where I just stared at the stunning performances on a stunningly simple but effective stage with a blankly stunned look of confusion on my face.

Loved the emotional performances (with a truly stellar performance from Patrick Stewart and Kate Fleetwood as Lady Macbeth) but I'm not sure I could comment on the actual performance of the text since most of it I didn't understand. Between the accents (the diction was fine though), being far away in the balcony, and just being a bit tired from a long day, the words just drowned in my head.

But that set! The entire direction of the play! Wow! With a clever use of modern video projections, Goold manages to turn the plain white tiled Cold War looking set into a hospital room, forest, dinning room, traincar, all as the three witches float around as nurses, waitresses, and the general help as they manipulate and pull the characters to their ultimate bloody demise.

And bloody it is, with some nice shrieking blood soaked thrilling scenes. Especially with that blood projection during MacDuff's return. Freaky! Or Macbeth hiring his henchmen to kill MacDuff all while Stewart makes a sandwich on stage. Or Fleetwood's Lady Macbeth with her hands soaked in blood after doing what Macbeth couldn't do. Freaky! Now if only the costumes could differentiate each character so I could tell who was MacDuff and who was Malcolm (from the Balcony, they all pretty much looked like white men in a costume and only the bald head of Stewart helps easily differentiate his leading role).

Variety has a good review that sums up pretty much how I felt about the show but written better of course. Here is the NY Times review too. On a side note, does the Chichester Festival always insert songs into their plays, musical styled? This is now 2 for 2.

Gypsy - St. James Theatre - Broadway, New York - ****1/2 (4.5 out of 5)

Macbeth - Lyceum Theatre - Broadway, New York - **** (4 out of 5)

Photos credits: Tristram Kenton for the last Macbeth photo. AP for the second last Macbeth photo. Gypsy photos from


Esther said...

I totally agree with you about "Gypsy," especially Laura Benanti's performance. She undergoes an amazing transformation on stage from an awkward insecure girl to a gorgeous, confident stripper, right before our eyes! I saw it at Encores over the summer, and it was just as good the second time. If anything, I think Patti LuPone kicked her performance up a notch in intensity. "Gypsy" isn't my all-time favorite musical, but this production is really unforgettable.

Vance said...

OH good, I thought I was going to get a lot of wrath for saying Gypsy isn't the best musical ever (as I seem to be reading on a lot of blogs).

(And hey! I actually have YOUR blog on my bookmarks on my personal computer! I've actually read your stuff!)