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Beware, 'Gypsy' fans: Will a 'South Pacific' tsunami hit the Tonys?

March 30, 2008 |  9:20 pm

"Yes, that quiet crunching sound you hear is me eating my hat," admitted New York Times Broadway theater critic Ben Brantley when he saw the new production of "Gypsy" and admitted he had been wrong to dread it.

Last summer he pooh-poohed an early staging of the show at City Center as "enjoyable but unenthralling." Now he's declaring this production at the St. James Theater to be a "wallop-packing revival" of a show that he and his Times predecessor, Frank Rich, have both called the greatest American musical ever, period.

Patti_lupone_gypsy_1

Yes, true, it's the role Patti LuPone was born to play. As Brantley noted last summer, "If any actress of her generation seemed fated to play Momma Rose, the juggernaut of a stage mother in the musical 'Gypsy,' it was Patti LuPone, the juggernaut of a Broadway star.

"After all, Ms. LuPone became famous for her no-holds-barred portrayal of an actress of ravenous and ravening ambition in the title role of 'Evita' three decades ago, and ambition is Momma Rose’s oxygen. What’s more, Ms. LuPone has lungs and larynx of brass to rival those of Ethel Merman, the rafter-shaking star of the original 'Gypsy' in 1959, to whom Ms. LuPone has often been compared."

Sure, everybody's saying that LuPone has the Tony Award for best musical actress in the bag, but does she? It was more than 25 years ago that she won for "Evita." She's lost twice since then: "Anything Goes" (1988) and "Sweeney Todd" (2006).

Every gal who's portrayed Momma Rose on Broadway has, at least, been nominated: Ethel Merman (1960), Angela Lansbury (1975), Tyne Daly (1990) and Bernadette Peters (2003). Lansbury and Daly won. That original iron diva, the Merm, actually, egad, lost to sweet, lil Mary Martin in "The Sound of Music," which beat "Gypsy" for best musical. OK, maybe that's understandable — at least The Greatest Broadway Musical Ever lost to another stage classic, but here's the catch: "Sound of Music" tied "Fiorello!" for the win!

So is this "Gypsy" version really that much of a Tony shoo-in win for best musical revival?

The last production at the Shubert Theatre wasn't, but there was a lynch mob out for it led by New York Post theater reporter Michael Riedel who thought Bernadette Peters was miscast. She lost the best-actress trophy to Marissa Jaret Winokur ("Hairspray," winner of best musical). "Gypsy" lost best musical revival to "Nine."

There was no revival category back in 1975 when Lansbury won the Tony. That changed by 1990, and Tyne Daly's "Gypsy" won, beating a relatively weak field.

Now many Tony pundits are proclaiming that LuPone's "Gypsy" has this year's best-revival Tony in the bag, too.

South_pacific_tonys

Of the four eligible shows — "South Pacific," "Grease," "Sunday in the Park with George" and "Gypsy" — New York magazine's Vulture blog declares, "The only real contenders are 'Gypsy' and 'Sunday,' but it seems pretty likely that Patti and the power of 'Gypsy' will blow the well-regarded but not star-studded 'Sunday' revival out of the water." (READ MORE)

Now let me recommend to you Tony Awards Haven (CLICK HERE), a new website just launched by one of our trusty posters here, "RadioTV2," who sizes up this category thus: "At the moment, I think 'Gypsy' will sneak by 'Sunday in the Park with George' and grab the Tony . . . . 'South Pacific' is the wild card in this category because it is sure to be well received and it is the first Broadway revival of the show, but I believe that people just won't find a reason to vote for it over 'Sunday' or 'Gypsy.' "

RadioTV2, your new site is well done, bravo! But your take (and the N.Y. mag's, too) on this category is off. Why is everybody dismissing "South Pacific"? Just because it doesn't open until April 3? As already noted, this is the first revival ever! Back in 1950, it swept 10 categories at the Tonys. By comparison, 10 years later, "Gypsy" lost all eight of its races when a different musical starring Mary Martin hit Broadway like a tsunami.

If this historic revival, staged by Lincoln Center, gets rave reviews and becomes a hit — as widely expected — the fifth staging "Gypsy" on Broadway won't look too special, will it? And if Tony voters feel like they can pay off "Gypsy" with an award for LuPone, they may be strongly tempted to put their vote for best production on a show that's bigger, sprawling, more joyous and splashier, don't you think?

If "South Pacific" becomes a fierce kudos tsunami, it could even sweep aside LuPone. Remember: Mary Martin won best actress for "South Pacific." Now its current star, Kelli O'Hara, is a major force LuPone should be worried about. O'Hara is a hot new Broadway star who many Tony-watchers believe is overdue for a win, having lost in 2006 ("The Pajama Game") and 2005 ("The Light in the Piazza").

Below: LuPone singing "Everything's Coming Up Roses" and "Rose's Turn" at the City Center production of "Gypsy" last summer.

'EVERYTHING'S COMING UP ROSES"

"ROSE'S TURN"


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