Friday, July 20, 2007

Letting me down gently

I'm finally getting to dealing with the long-awaited weekend, which has come and gone. Did it measure up to my expectations?

My colleague Steve Smith wrote about last Friday night's Immortal show on his blog, and I agree with pretty much everything, including the pungency of the air in the venue and the observation that "the band got the job done." To me, the show lacked that intengible bit of ooomph that would have made it transcendent. (It didn't help that after a while, Abbath starts sounding like a burping toad.) Let's put it this way: It was good, but it wasn't evil, the way 1349 was a few months ago.

The audience was also red-hot with eager anticipation—but easier on the nose—the following night at City Center. The subtitle of the evening might as well have been: The Best Musical Ever with the Star Who Was Born to Be in It. In other words, we were there to see Patti LuPone play Mama Rose in Gypsy.

My colleague Adam Feldman raves about the show in TONY, and I agree with quite a few of his observations (especially how great Laura Benanti is). But to me the production misses transformative transcendence by a mile. Some of it has to do with the insane level of expectation, something I was as guilty as everybody else. But there's no helping Arthur Laurents' perfunctory staging. It's a textbook illustration of the fact that being close to the material—and Laurents, who wrote Gypsy's book, is as close as can be—may not be a good thing when it comes to translating it to the stage.

Here's what I'd love to see but never will, or at least not while Laurents is alive, and not until New York producers grow some balls: Go dark on Gypsy. And I don't mean call Sam Mendes—no, go real dark and give the show to Ivo van Hove or Thomas Ostermeier. Let them dynamite Gypsy to reveal the negative force that sucks everything into its ashen vortex: Let Rose be a real monster, without sugarcoating her by unearthing flickering embers of warmth or suggesting that deep inside she does mean well.

When Baby June grows up and still does her same old kiddie number, Rose should be the selfish, manipulative creator of a creepy adult JonBenet. When the troupe ends up at the burlesque house, the strippers should be run-down hags shooting heroin, and when Rose pimps out Louise to a stripping career, it should look like a mother selling her daughter into white slavery.

Gypsy should be more than drama, for in that case drama is the spoonful of sugar that makes the medicine go down for wimpy theatergoers. No, Gypsy should be staged like the tragedy it really is. And I say, bring it on!

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