Shubert Theatre, NYC - April 2002
Review by John Kenrick
The Bernadette Peters revival of Gypsy is going to serve as a dividing point between theatre lovers. Those who have never seen the show before will find much to enjoy -- after all, this is still one of the finest musicals ever written. But those of us who have seen previous top rank revivals will know this as a Gypsy that falls painfully short. And at $100 a seat, a second-rate Gypsy is not just a disappointment -- its an insult.
British director Sam Mendes has opted for a minimalistic production that never lets the audience forget that every scene is taking place on a stage. This approach is a rather heavy handed way of reminding us that Mama Rose and everyone who is drawn into her emotional vortex live their lives in the context of the theatre. It is also at times unnecessarily ugly. Anthony Wards sets mostly consist of doorways and loose pieces of furniture, so his costumes (which often pay homage to those seen in previous productions) become the primary source of color. The only costumes that show a genuine streak of originality are those of the three strippers in the show-stopping "Gotta Have a Gimmick."
The dazzle in the material remains foolproof. The shattering Arthur Laurents book is almost completely intact (more on this later), as is the solid-gold score by composer Jule Styne and lyricist Stephen Sondheim. Just as important are the original orchestrations by Sid Ramin and Robert Ginzler, which give the whole show its distinctive period show biz sound -- including what many justifiably regard as the greatest Broadway overture of all time, with the distinctive trumpet riff that has been thrilling audiences for over 40 years. We even get the original choreography of Jerome Robbins, judiciously amended and augmented by Jerry Mitchell. So the production, despite its less attractive aspects, remains a polished professional package.
With a solidly written, character-driven musical like Gypsy, slick packaging can only go so far. The show ultimately comes down to what the cast can do with it, and the cast of this revival is not the solid team it needs to be.