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March 28, 2008

TT: Sondheim here, Sondheim there

This week's Wall Street Journal drama column is a triple-header in which I report on the new (sort of) Broadway revival of Gypsy, a Baltimore production of A Little Night Music, and the New York premiere of The Four of Us. Here's an excerpt.

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Patti_LuPone_as_Rose_in_GYPSY_%284%29%2C_photo_by_Joan_Marcus.jpgThe production of "Gypsy" that opened on Broadway last night is the same one that ran for three weeks last July at City Center, so I needn't say much beyond this: No matter how long you live, you'll never see a more exciting or effective revival of a golden-age musical. Everything you've heard about Patti LuPone's performance as Mama Rose, the stage mother from hell, is true--she's so ferociously compelling that you'll have to remind yourself to breathe between songs--but part of what makes this production so special is that the rest of the cast is just as memorable. I doubt there's been a better Louise than Laura Benanti, who starts out as Rose's mousy little daughter, then turns herself before your astonished eyes into Gypsy Rose Lee, the world's most glamorous stripper. Boyd Gaines is no less fine in the ungratefully self-effacing role of Herbie, Mama Rose's lover, while Leigh Ann Larkin brings off the even more challenging task of making a strong impression as June, Louise's sister.

The show itself is a miracle, one of the top contenders for the title of Best Musical Ever. The songs, by Stephen Sondheim and Jule Styne, are classics one and all, as are Jerome Robbins' impeccably theatrical dances. Arthur Laurents, who wrote the book of "Gypsy," has staged this revival, and his knowing hand is everywhere in evidence....

Mark Lamos has done almost as well by CenterStage's revival of "A Little Night Music" as Mr. Laurents has by "Gypsy," in part for one of the same reasons: His cast is all but unimprovable. Led by Barbara Walsh, one of the stars of John Doyle's much-admired Broadway revival of "Company," Mr. Lamos' ensemble of singing actors strips away the mirrored surfaces of Mr. Sondheim's lyrics and shows us the hard kernels of honesty that lie within. "A Little Night Music" may sound like a frothy waltz-time operetta, but its real subject is romantic disillusion, and in song after song we are invited to contemplate unpalatable truths about the "dirty business" of love: Men are stupid, men are vain/Love's disgusting, love's insane. Only through the stoic acceptance that comes with maturity do the characters find their way to more or less happy endings, and even then you go home wondering what the future holds in store for them.

Mr. Lamos makes the most of the pointed ironies of Mr. Sondheim's brilliant songs and Hugh Wheeler's wry book. Everyone in the cast is on the director's acerbic wavelength....

Is there a more promising playwright in America than Itamar Moses? "The Four of Us," his latest play, delighted me when I saw it in San Diego last season, and now Off Broadway audiences can revel in this crisply witty study of a pair of up-and-coming young writers (Gideon Banner and Michael Esper) whose friendship is threatened when one of them hits the celebrity jackpot while the other is still struggling to find himself....

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Read the whole thing here.

Posted March 28, 2008 12:00 AM

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