July 10, 2007

LuPone ready to make Rose bloom again in "Gypsy"

NEW YORK - The big theater va-voom of the week isn't happening on Broadway but rather a few dozen paces north, at City Center on West 55th.

That's where Patti LuPone will be belting out "Everything's Coming Up Roses," "Rose's Turn" and those other great Jule Styne-Stephen Sondheim songs during a three-week run of the venerable musical-with-fangs masterpiece "Gypsy," which began previews Sunday night (July 8) and officially opens Saturday.

Does anyone need explaining that this was the great Ethel Merman hit, the monster success that capped her long and spectacular career, just as "The Visit" was the Mount Everest for Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, "Hello, Dolly!" the summit for Carol Channing and "The Entertainer" Laurence Olivier's crowning glory in the theater.

Since Merman first inhabited it in 1959, many have played and sung the role of quintessential stage mother Mama Rose: Rosalind Russell did the movie version, Angela Lansbury won a Tony for her striking interpretation in the 1974 Broadway revival, and more recently Tyne Daly and Bernadette Peters have taken their turns, not counting the dozens who have done road tours, regional revivals and summer-theater runs. Few since Merman, however, seem as adamantly right for the role as the lady who will be belting out those numbers on the City Center's stage.

Although the City Center is known as the home of the "Encores!" series of concert stagings of past-tense musicals, and this "Gypsy" is a summertime "Encores!" project, it isn't a concert version but rather a fully staged production. The kind of booking that adds bedazzle to the theater scene, the production is particularly intriguing because it's being directed by Arthur Laurents, who wrote the original book.

It has long been a part of showbiz legend that for years Laurents resisted having LuPone play the famous role. Now he's directing her in it.

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