As if to prove my own point about the place of enthusiasm in criticism, today’s Wall Street Journal drama column consists of a pair of flat-out raves. On tap are City Center’s Gypsy and Westport Country Playhouse’s Relatively Speaking:
Patti LuPone, who was last seen on Broadway puffing on a tuba in “Sweeney Todd,” stopped the show cold at her first entrance in Monday’s performance of “Gypsy.” No sooner did she march up the aisle of City Center shouting “Sing out, Louise!” than the sold-out house popped its collective cork. That’s how excited playgoers are about her “Gypsy”–as well they should be. Not only will Ms. LuPone be remembered as the Mama Rose of her generation, but every other aspect of this production is as good as it can be. Point for point, it’s the best revival of a golden-age musical I’ve seen, in or out of New York. Staging, casting, design, even the orchestra: All are gloriously, exhilaratingly right.
Not counting the show itself, Ms. LuPone is the very best thing about “Gypsy,” but the director comes in a close second. Arthur Laurents, who turned 89 last week, wrote the book of “Gypsy” and also directed the show’s 1974 and 1989 Broadway revivals. Though he’s never been much of a playwright, Mr. Laurents was a kind of genius when it came to writing the books of musicals. “Gypsy,” like “West Side Story” before it, is a fat-free masterpiece of compression that cuts to the chase in every scene, discarding all superfluous detail and sticking unswervingly to the main dramatic line. Needless to say, Mr. Laurents knows it cold, and his staging, which I gather is a close but not slavish copy of the 1989 revival, zips along like lightning, unfussily nailing every laugh and jerking every tear….
If the recent Brits Off Broadway production of “Intimate Exchanges” made you long to see another Alan Ayckbourn comedy as soon as possible, I strongly suggest you catch the next train to Connecticut, where “Relatively Speaking,” the first of Mr. Ayckbourn’s 70-odd plays to hit the box-office bull’s-eye, is being performed with pizzazz at Westport Country Playhouse….
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