The 5 PM event kicked off with journalist Patrick Pacheco (NY1, The Los Angeles Times) moderating a brief Q&A session with the production's central trio: Laura Benanti (Louise), Boyd Gaines (Herbie) and Patti LuPone (Rose)- all of whom took home 2008 Tony Awards for their performances in this revival of the Stephen Sondheim-Arthur Laurents-Jule Styne classic.
They were joined for a post-discussion CD signing by additional principal members of the cast, including Leigh Ann Larkin (Dainty June), Tony Yazbeck (Tulsa), Marilyn Caskey (Electra), Alison Fraser (Tessie Tura), Lenora Nemetz (Mazeppa), Sami Gayle (Baby June) and Emma Rowley (Baby Louise). Also on hand for the signing was multiple Grammy-nominee Robert Sher, who produced the album for Time Life.
By the 4:15 PM press check-in time, the sizable event space was at full standing room capacity, with a line of autograph seekers snaking out into the store, weaving through several sections of bookshelf and stretching back to the far corner. While those nearest to the front of the waiting area were able to listen to and view the discussion through the glass, the majority patiently waited on line in hopes of making it to the autograph table before the actors had to rush 20 block downtown for their 7 PM call time. Thanks to the efforts of a well-organized team of publicists and store staff, a massive amount of people were cycled through in the very limited time frame. LuPone, whose especially demanding role called for her to leave a bit earlier than her co-stars, had pre-signed a stack of album covers in order to accommodate as many fans as possible.
Pacheco directed the Q&A portion through a series of thought-provoking questions that delighted the ardent fan base. A few highlights from the 20-minute discussion:
On their first experiences listening to past Gypsy cast albums:
Benanti confessed that she had never heard a recording of the show before and still has yet to listen to this one. Gaines picked up the Tyne Daly recording when he found out he would be doing the show. LuPone, on the other hand, grew up on the recordings she could buy for $1 at the checkout counter of the A&P. Because her favorite numbers were initially the "Moo Cow" song, "All I Need Is the Girl" and "You Gotta Get a Gimmick," she had always envisioned herself as Dainty June, Tulsa or Mazeppa, but never Mama Rose. "I was a kid and [Rose] was a confusing part. I got the kid songs and the stripper song!" Upon Pacheco's suggestion that this particular Rose/Herbie relationship has a certain "sexual heat" not seen in traditional stagings (about which Benanti joked, "We don't talk about that. It's awkward backstage..."):
LuPone explained that she and Gaines have been friends for decades due to their Juilliard ties, but somehow had never performed together until a 2002 Anything Goes benefit concert. Playing opposite each other as Cole Porter's famously misbehaving unlikely lovers, Reno Sweeney and Lord Evelyn Oakleigh, it became evident just how profoundly their real-life chemistry as friends carried over to enhance their onstage dynamic.
On her ability to relate to the Louise character:
Self-proclaimed "ugly duckling" Benanti explained how her naturally "super-curly hair" was especially unwieldy and large in her childhood ("But it was the '80s. I put a scrunchy in and it was good!") and led to her spending much of her time alone, singing along to cast albums such as LuPone's Evita. It all changed, in a way similar to Louise, at certain pivotal moments: She sang her first solo in fifth grade, and the town realized that "the girl with the afro can sing"; and, said the actress, "I felt really alone for a huge part of my life... until I found gel! So the whole 'Mama, I'm a pretty girl' actually happened to me... when I found gel!"
On the changes made to the "Rose's Turn" lyrics and staging between City Center and Broadway:
LuPone said, "[Rose] has just denigrated Louise as a cheap stripper. If she was going to prove she was better [than her], why didn't she pull out the batons and the toe shoes and do Dainty June's act? I couldn't get my head around why she was doing a strip. [Arthur Laurents] allowed me to deconstruct the strip so I could do it with the impact it needed. But what's happening now is I'm understanding the strip! But I've said this forever, it takes me a long time to learn anything. I should be given six months of previews!"
This new recording, released Aug. 26, boasts never-before-recorded songs cut from the original Broadway production, including "Three Wishes for Christmas," "Mama's Talkin' Soft," "Nice She Ain't," "Mother's Day," "Smile, Girls," "Who Needs Him?," and an alternate version of "Mother's Day." Jonathan Tunick provided new orchestrations for the additional numbers.
The Gypsy company includes Bill Bateman, Andrew Boyer, Jim Bracchitta, Dorothy Stanley, Beckley Andrews, Nancy Renée Braun, Mindy Dougherty, Kyrian Friedenberg, Matt Gibson, Sarah Marie Hicks, Steve Konopelski, Matthew Lobenhofer, Nicole Mangi, Katie Micha, Matty Price, Bill Raymond, Brian Reddy, Andy Richardson, Lisa Rohinsky, Jessica Rush, Alicia Sable, John Scacchetti, Geo Seery, Rider Quentin Stanton and Pearce Wegener.
Gypsy currently plays the St. James Theatre at 246 West 44th Street.
Tickets are available by calling (212) 239-6200 or by visiting www.telecharge.com.
Here is a look at the Thursday afternoon event:
All photos by Matthew Blank