Recent Posts

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


Last week, I was in NY to help out with a friend’s business venture and hoped to be able to take in a few of the many Broadway shows I’ve been dying to see. On my top tier wish-list was Patti LuPone in Gypsy, the other two being South Pacific and Spring Awakening. Three shows in just four days? It was possible for sure, but since this wasn’t a pleasure trip…I didn't know if it would be entirely probable. Unfortunately, I never made it to South Pacific which was fine since I more than enjoyed at least one of the shows I saw.

With the Tony noms just last week and Patti LuPone's nomination for best leading actress in a musical, I just knew that her portrayal of Mama Rose would be stellar. While I have had my reservations about her in certain roles from years past, I was oh-so-sure that this performance would blow all others right out of the water. After all, in addition to LuPone, Gypsy boasts an impressive cast of nominees (for their role in the show): Boyd Gaines as Herbie and Laura Benanti as Louise. Yet when the full orchestra appeared on stage and played the first note of the overture, I was simply mesmerized and thrilled to be in the audience. Turns out, the orchestra that night might have been the most thrilling part of the whole show. Wow, that was harsh (I’m sorry Ms. LuPone!) As the show progressed, I had moments of feeling fully engrossed but for the most part wished that I could love it more. I remember thinking just before the end of Act I that many people judge what makes a good Mama Rose based on what she does with the dramatic number, Rose’s Turn. To me though, that’s too easy. What makes a good Mama Rose is how the actor leads up to that climax in the role. I really do love Patti LuPone, but I felt in this performance she was trying too hard – too hard to be impressive, her singing seemed inconsistent and it seemed more about trying to use vibrato and have a vocally wide range while trying to embellish her singing. Don't get me wrong, her Rose’s Turn was fantastic, she was dramatic, delusional and damaged…yet you knew it was coming. It was a great Mama Rose but it wasn’t that special (I know, kill me now, I know who I'm being critical of). And maybe what I liked the most about her performance of Rose's Turn is that she didn’t try to throw in vibrato where it didn’t belong or unnecessarily embellish her singing. Her acting spoke for itself in this one scene whereas it didn’t really anywhere else.

I thought Boyd Gaines was a good (not great) Herbie and only Laura Benanti’s Louise truly grew as a character from start to finish (Benanti I think she was sick -- she kept blowing her nose -- and if she truly was, she STILL gave a performance worthy of a nomination). I wonder if knowing the show too well made it less enjoyable for me. Was it because to me, the quintessential Mama Rose (revival) is Bette Midler and maybe I unfairly compared LuPone to Midler?
Perhaps the best part of the entire trip was my visit to Spring Awakening. I have long since been a skeptic of the whole idea that this show has transformed the Broadway landscape. All the hype about the show being amazing, life changing, etc., I never understood and I knew that I couldn’t grasp that concept until I actually saw the show. I was in luck because I got one of the hottest Broadway tickets for the evening performance of Sunday, May 18. Little did I know that I would be amidst the screaming teenagers in the audience of the Eugene O’Neill Theatre and feel a little old but be re-energized by an amazing night of theater. That Sunday evening performance was the final one for Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele, the leads in the show. These two have been Melchior Gabor and Wendla Bergmann (respectfully) since its off-Broadway engagement and then opened the show when it transferred to Broadway on December 10, 2006.

The show opens with Michele standing alone on a chair singing Mama Who Bore Me and from the moment she appeared on stage, she received a thunderous applause which led to a standing ovation before she sang a note. It was an amazing evening filled with energy, emotion and was simply magical (so said Michele). I knew that this was going to be an exciting performance. The company gave it their all and though the show seemed to be running like a well oiled machine (it has been running for over a year now), it still felt fresh. There was a real sense of camaraderie between the members of the company and the chemistry between Groff and Michele was very apparent. Michele was emotional throughout her performance (I was sitting close enough, 6th row) to tell but the two most memorable, stand-out scenes in the show came in The Mirror-Blue Light & Totally Fucked. While the entire show was electrifying, seeing Groff standing on the chair (there were a lot of chairs in this show) during the The Mirror-Blue Light number with the blue lights hanging from the ceiling was actually really beautiful. Hearing Groff sing, seeing the lights, feeling the energy made for such an amazing moment in the theater. Even better though was the performance of Totally Fucked. It was perfectly acted/sung and the audience ate it up. The number actually got a standing ovation...for five minutes! even makes the same claim and at the end of the number, the cast was frozen in their position for the same five minutes with Michele crying and though I couldn’t see Groff’s face, I read he was happily laughing. The rest of the cast was amused by this too by the look on their faces – it was priceless.

I was truly mesmerized by the energy this show gave off – I’m not sure who gave more, the cast or the legions of passionate fans. The show reminded me of the way I was at that age (crazy about The Phantom of the Opera) and how emotional I got whether happy or sad about my love of the show. Now, I finally understand this show -- the hype, the choreography of jumping about on stage, the storyline and the connection anyone who has ever felt the pain of adolescent angst. The talent of each member of the company on stage was immense and Spring Awakening is truly an amazing show for the young and the young at heart.


Related Posts with Thumbnails