DIVA TALK: Batting a Thousand—Bernadette Peters Scores in Gypsy

DIVA TALK: Batting a Thousand—Bernadette Peters Scores in Gypsy Hello, diva lovers! After a month of previews, Gypsy has officially opened at the Shubert Theatre!
Bernadette Peters in Gypsy.
Bernadette Peters in Gypsy. (Photo by Joan Marcus)

GYPSY

On April 12, 2000, I submitted this story to Playbill On-Line:

“It’s only in the very early stages, but it’s some of the most exciting news I’ve heard in a long time. It seems that Bernadette Peters has been approached about starring in a full-scale London revival of the classic musical Gypsy. Peters is definitely interested in what would be her second ‘Ethel Merman’ role and is currently mulling over the prospect of following in the footsteps of such former Gypsy stars as the aforementioned Merman, Angela Lansbury, Tyne Daly, and, most recently at the Paper Mill, Betty Buckley.

Two-time Tony-winner Peters is scheduled to conclude her run in the hit revival of Annie Get Your Gun in September and, according to her press rep, would like a bit of a break before heading into another musical, but with Sam Mendes as the possible director, it seems like a project too exciting to dismiss. Arthur Laurents, who wrote the book to Gypsy, which features a score by Jule Styne and Stephen Sondheim, recently leaked the prospect at a press conference for his new autobiography, ‘Original Story By’ (Random House). Stay tuned for more information.”

Three years later, that revival has finally opened, although on the other side of the Atlantic, and I’m happy to report that Bernadette Peters is a Rose to be reckoned with: From her first scene at Uncle Jocko’s Kiddie Show auditions through her final, gut-wrenching “Rose’s Turn,” Peters perfectly captures — among other qualities — Rose’s driving desperation. In the former scene, she quickly turns from comedic to harshly dramatic, bellowing, “Don’t you laugh. Don’t you DARE laugh! That child is going to be a STAR!” It’s a fiery delivery that Peters employs many times in the Sam Mendes-directed production, the fourth Broadway incarnation of one of the greatest American musicals. Like Mendes’ Tony-winning Cabaret, it’s a dark, minimalist production that strips away any glitz, choosing to focus on the actors, the classic score and that flawless script, which can be show-stoppingly comedic while teetering on the brink of tragedy. The scales do eventually tip to the tragic, and though the warnings have been blatant, the effect is still shocking. One of Mendes’ most significant contributions is to place Rose in full view of the audience each time her daughters perform on the vaudeville stage, watching (and mimicking) them from the wings with a mix of anticipation, joy and, perhaps, envy.

Mendes has also directed Peters to offer the sexiest Rose to ever hit the stage. She’s one of the few to have played the part who makes the audience believe she could have actually been a successful performer had she been given the chance. This makes her ultimate breakdown even more pathetic, the talent that was never nurtured, the life that never was — and never will be. When she sings, “Well, someone tell me, when is it my turn? Don't I get a dream for myself?,” it’s truly heartbreaking. She and John Dossett’s Herbie have a palpable chemistry, igniting in a beautifully delivered “Small World” (one wishes this Herbie had more to sing) and dissolving in the harrowing second act dressing-room scene when Rose shockingly pushes daughter Louise to strip. It’s the final nail in the coffin for the Herbie-Rose relationship, and Peters and Dossett play the moment for all its dramatic worth. Peters is similarly disturbing in the dressing room scene prior to “Rose’s Turn,” when she desperately screams at the now-famous Gypsy Rose Lee, “Let me do something, damnit! A million things. I’m not a baby!”

Tammy Blanchard as the aforementioned Gypsy also offers a touching performance: She is heartbreakingly real as the always-in-the background, gawky Louise who wonders how old she is while falling for dancer Tulsa, who ends up marrying her brassy sister June. And, Blanchard’s transformation from this awkward adolescent to confident striptease artist is beguiling. In fact, it’s a terrific cast from top to bottom: Julie Halston, in the dual roles of Miss Cratchitt and Electra, and Heather Lee as “demure” stripper Tessie Tura, provide some of the evening’s biggest laughs, and their second-act “You Gotta Get a Gimmick” — with Kate Buddeke’s Mazeppa — is one of the production’s many highlights. David Burtka also offers an endearing, innocent but nimble footed Tulsa, who shines in his solo, “All I Need Is the Girl.” That number also supplies one of the most spirit-raising moments, as Louise, who is completely besotted with Tulsa, joins him for an energetic dance finale.

But it is ultimately Rose’s show, and this Rose shines, seduces, scares and shatters. Peters is at her finest during the ends of each act, delivering haunting versions of both the speeches that precede “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” and “Rose’s Turn” and the songs themselves. “Rose’s Turn,” in fact, is flawlessly delivered, with Peters galvanizing her energies and plumbing the depths of the impeccably crafted song. Dressed in a form-fitting purple gown, Rose’s final meltdown is exciting, yet shocking, and by the time she belts out, “For me, for me, for me, for meeeeeeeee,” Peters has taken the audience on a roller-coaster ride of emotions. I also found Peters’ final exit — as she forlornly looks out on the empty stage and the life that wasn’t — profoundly moving.

Ya either got it, or ya ain’t. And, boys, she’s got it!

(Gypsy plays the Shubert Theatre, 225 West 44th Street, Monday through Saturday evenings at 8 PM with matinees Wednesdays and Saturdays at 2 PM. Call (212) 239-6200 for tickets.)

IN OTHER DIVA NEWS OF THE WEEK Tony Award winner Betty Buckley, The Look of Love’s Liz Callaway, Emmy Award winner Polly Bergen, jazz pianist Barbara Carroll plus songwriters Rupert Holmes and John Bucchino will join Ann Hampton Callaway May 10 for “The Callaway Hour,” part of the acclaimed American Songbook series at Lincoln Center. The May 10 evening is just one of three being dubbed “A Weekend with Ann Hampton Callaway,” which kicks off May 8 with a Master Class conducted by Callaway. The class will feature eight up-n-coming singers guided by Callaway’s comments; tickets are $25. On May 9 Callaway will offer a “Request Night,” featuring songs requested in advance by members of the Songbook series. To date, the ever-growing list includes “Isn’t It Romantic?,” “I’ll Be Seeing You,” “But Not for Me,” “Mr. Paganini” and “Lush Life.” Callaway will perform two shows during the evening, at 8 ($45) and 10 PM ($30). And, the May 10 “Callaway Hour” and will boast chats and performances from Buckley, Callaway, Carroll, Bergen, Holmes and Bucchino. Show times are 8 PM ($45) and 10 PM ($30). The critically praised series devoted to the popular American song will be held at the Stanley H. Kaplan Penthouse, 165 West 65th Street. Call (212) 721-6500 for reservations. . . . Felicia Finley, who is currently starring as Amneris in the Broadway production of Aida, will tackle the title role in Evita this summer. Finley will play Eva Peron in the Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice musical, which will be mounted July 21-Aug. 2 at Maine’s Ogunquit Playhouse. Finley will belt those high Es opposite Julio (Bells Are Ringing, Nine) Augustin’s Che and David (Chicago, Fosse, Bells Are Ringing) Brummel’s Peron. Gordon Greenberg, who helmed the Goodspeed’s production of The Baker’s Wife and the national tour of Peter Pan, will direct. Choreography will be supplied by Chris Gatelli (Bat Boy) with musical direction by Avenue Q’s Mark Hartman. For tickets, call (207) 646-5611. . . . Three-time Tony Award winner Audra McDonald will sit down for a chat with host Seth Rudetsky at the May 8 edition of Seth’s Broadway Chatterbox. The weekly live talkfest, which includes interviews and performances from Broadway stars, is held at 6 PM at the New York cabaret Don't Tell Mama. There is a $10 donation and a two-drink minimum. The donation goes directly to Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, the nation's leading industry-based, not-for-profit AIDS fundraising and grant-making organization. Don't Tell Mama is located in New York City on West 46th Street, between Eighth and Ninth Avenues. Call (212) 757 0788 for reservations. . . . The busy McDonald will also headline the Second Annual Benefit for the Public Theater’s Joe’s Pub. McDonald was part of the opening of Joe’s Pub in 1998, and she will return to the intimate cabaret May 28 with an evening of tunes by such composers as Adam Guettel, Michael John LaChiusa and Jeff Blumenkrantz. Concertgoers will be treated to the McDonald performance, a post-concert reception and a light supper. Additionally, those attending will receive a reserved seat to the upcoming production of Henry V in Central Park starring Liev Schreiber. Tickets for the benefit are priced at $200 and are available by calling (212) 539-8778. Show time is 7 PM. Joe's Pub is located within the Public Theater at 425 Lafayette Street, between East 4th Street and Astor Place. . . . Once On This Island Tony nominee La Chanze will bring her acclaimed concert act to Joe’s Pub May 26. La Chanze will offer two shows at the intimate cabaret, at 7 and 9:30 PM. The singer-actress will be directed by Jerry Dixon with musical direction by Fred Carl. Tickets for the concerts are priced at $20 (advance) and $25 (at the door). Call (212) 239-6200 for reservations or visit www.telecharge.com. Those wishing to dine before the show should call (212) 539-8778. . . . Jana Robbins, who stoodby for Tyne Daly in the 1989 Gypsy revival, will sing the tunes of Cy Coleman May 12 at the Walnut Street Theatre. Entitled One Hell of a Ride! — The Songs of Cy Coleman, Robbins’ one-woman show was originally scheduled for the Philadelphia Theatre Feb. 17, but the 2003 blizzard performed instead. Her acclaimed evening features musical direction and piano accompaniment by Doyle Newmeyer and Coleman tunes from such shows as Sweet Charity, Seesaw, Little Me and City of Angels. Show time is 7:30 PM. The Walnut Street Theatre is located in Philadelphia at 825 Walnut Street. Tickets for One Hell of a Ride! are priced at $27 and are available by calling (215) 574-3550. . . . The music of Tony Award winner Jason Robert Brown will be featured in four separate events at this year’s Adelaide Cabaret Festival, which runs June 6-22. Brown, who contributed songs to this season’s Urban Cowboy, is one of the composers whose works will be heard during the June 6 and 7 “Broadway Divas” concerts, which opens the third annual Australian festival. Side Show’s Emily Skinner, recent Les Miz star Lauren Kennedy and The Wild Party’s Julia Murney will perform special arrangements of material written by Brown, Andrew Lippa, Marcy Heisler and Zina Goldrich. Gordon Greenberg will direct the concerts, with musical direction by George Stitt. “The Broadway Divas” will be performed at the Dunstan Playhouse; show time is 7 PM. On June 14 (9 PM) and June 15 (7:30 PM), Songs for a New World — Brown’s acclaimed song cycle — will be presented at the Dunstan Playhouse. The work, which features gospel-tinged ballads, R&B tunes and theatre love songs, will be performed by Spencer McLaren, Emily Skinner and Lauren Kennedy. Brown has expanded the score, which will be played by a 35-piece orchestra. Brown’s The Last 5 Years, which played a brief run Off-Broadway starring Sherie Rene Scott and Norbert Leo Butz, will be presented at the Adelaide Festival’s Space Hall, June 18-21 at 7:15 PM. Brown and Lauren Kennedy will perform the song cycle about a broken marriage told from two different view points; they will be backed by the Caucasian Rhythm Kings. And, “The Last Night Concert,” June 22 at 8 PM, will feature a mix of Brown’s music from such shows as Parade, Songs for a New World, The Last 5 Years and Urban Cowboy. Brown will be joined onstage by a host of performers as well as the Caucasian Rhythm Kings and the Cabaret Cat Scratch Band. The concert will be held at the Dunstan Playhouse. Call 08-8216-8600 for tickets to the various events. For more information about the Adelaide Cabaret Festival, visit www.adelaidecabaret.com. . . . And, finally, Jekyll & Hyde’s Christiane Noll will star in the national tour of the Tony nominated musical Urinetown. Noll has been cast as Hope Cladwell in the tour of Greg Kotis and Mark Hollman’s musical, which begins June 24 in California.

REMINDERS

Betty Buckley in Concert:

May 31 at Benaroya Hall in Seattle, WA

Liz Callaway in Concert:

Now in The Look of Love at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre
May 16 Broadway Showstoppers in Philadelphia, PA

Barbara Cook in Concert:

June 5-22 at the Kennedy Center for the Perf. Arts in Washington, DC
Sept. 7-8 at the Ravinia Festival in Chicago, IL
Sept. 13 at the Tulsa Opera House in Tulsa, OK
Sept. 20 in Bethlehem, PA; concert with Marilyn Horne
Oct. 3 at Symphony Hall in Boston, MA; concert with Marilyn Horne
Nov. 22 at Carnegie Hall in New York, NY

Patti LuPone in Concert:

Aug. 5 at the Mann Center for the Performing Arts in Philadelphia, PA ("Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda")
Oct. 25 at Symphony Hall in Boston, MA (“Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda”)
Nov. 7-9 with the Houston Symphony ("Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda")

Maureen McGovern in Concert

May 30 - 31 at the Palmer Events Center with the Austin Symphony Orchestra in Austin, TX
June 7 at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis, MN

Christiane Noll in Concert

May 24 Williamsburg, VA with the Virginia Arts Festival
Aug. 28 San Diego, CA with San Diego Symphony
Aug. 29 San Diego, CA with San Diego Symphony
Aug. 30 San Diego, CA with San Diego Symphony
Oct. 11 Chattanooga, TN with Don Pippin
Dec. 31 Des Moines, IA with Des Moines Symphony & Brad Little

Well, that’s all for now. Happy diva-watching!