The third Broadway revival of the 1959 musical Gypsy closed on May 30, 2004; the fourth, chronicled on this album, opened on March 27, 2008, a gap of less than four years. Ordinarily, even a perennially popular show like Gypsy would be revived on Broadway only, say, once a decade. But few questioned the wisdom of mounting the show again in 2008, and it quickly became a hit before winning three Tony Awards. The reason, simply, is casting. The third revival featured Bernadette Peters in the starring role of Mama Rose, the maniacal stage mother to the girl who becomes stripper Gypsy Rose Lee, a casting decision that some questioned as inappropriate. Quite the opposite was the case with Patti LuPone, who plays Mama Rose here. LuPone has made a career of portraying relatively unsympathetic characters, starting with her Tony-winning turn as Eva Peron in Evita and including Mrs. Lovett, baker of the human meatpies in a 2006 Broadway revival of Sweeney Todd. In her liner notes to this album, LuPone recounts her agreeing to appear in a 2006 production of Gypsy at the Ravinia Festival outside Chicago by saying that she knew "there were many people who wanted to see me play the part," a considerable understatement. That performance was followed by one as part of the City Center Encores! series of concert versions of musicals in New York in 2007, and then this production. Although the casting might seem perfect, however, LuPone had to actually go out and make the role her own, and she has, resulting in her second Tony Award. Her Mama Rose is full of pain and guile as well as bluster, just what the part needs. And, of course, it is sung beautifully. Happily, the star is accompanied by strong supporting performers, including Boyd Gaines as Rose's romantic interest Herbie, and Laura Benanti as Louise (aka Gypsy Rose Lee), both of whom also took home Tonys. Record producer Robert Sher and his associates seem to have realized that, even if LuPone and co. could make theatergoers forget all previous Gypsys on-stage, they had to compete with four previous cast albums, not to mention a movie and a TV soundtrack, and they have done so by making this, as the liner notes say, "the most complete recording of Gypsy ever." It is, in fact, more than complete in that surviving creators Arthur Laurents (who wrote the book) and Stephen Sondheim (who wrote the lyrics to Jule Styne's music) dug into their trunks and found a batch of cut songs, then had the current cast perform them. These tracks, two versions of "Mother's Day," "Momma's Talkin' Soft" (a countermelody to "Small World"), "Nice She Ain't," "Smile, Girls," "Who Needs Him?," and "Three Wishes for Christmas," open up the show in interesting ways. In particular, "Nice She Ain't" might have given Herbie more to do, if the original actor cast in the part, Jack Klugman, had had enough of a singing voice to sing it; Gaines does. "Smile, Girls" and "Who Needs Him?" are excellent songs, although it's easy to tell why they were cut, since they are essentially redundant in terms of the plot. "Three Wishes for Christmas" deserves to join the pantheon of perennially popular holiday songs, and now it may get its chance. With this material, the 2008 Gypsy is more than just another terrific recording of one of Broadway's best scores.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann