Reprinted from yesterday's late editions
Mama Rose scorned those who lived their lives in living room. Well, Wolf Trap Farm Park is no living room. It''s a huge space, and at times it threatens to overwhelm even Mama Rose. But Mama, and Angela Lansbury who plays her, and the magnificicent "Gypsy" are finally triumphant.
"Gypsy," which opened at Wolf Trap Monday night, is one of our most psychologically complex musicals. Arthur Laurents, who wrote the book, dealt with similar themes in last year's movie "THe Turning Point," but traits were more carefully apportioned to the characters, one to a customer. There was the woman who stayed home and the woman who stayed on stage, the daughter with burning ambition to dance and the other daughter with none.
The characters in "Gypsy" are not so easily explained. Rose wants to be a pro and a mom at the same time. She is not a great success in either field. She can be infuriating. But she never loses her fascination for us. Her dream of show biz success is genuinely compelling even at its most fraudukent. She is precisely the great lady she says she is even at her blindest moments.
Her daughters, who are wiser than their mother, are even more acutely ambiivalent characters. They want to perform, and they want to call it quits. At the height of her fame, Gypsy Rose Lee says, "Nobody laughs at me. I laugh at myself first."
Lansbury as Rose, is giving an even stronger portrayal of this classic American achiever than she did several years ago at the Kennedy Center. She sings with a smooth tone in her lower register and a power up on top that was not so apparent previously. Mama urges the bandleader to "keep the tempo up," and Lansbury does precisely that. Her Mama is quick, fierce, occasionally massquerading under a facade of down-to-earth charm but never fully capable of hiding the juice inside her.
Regina Ann Rodnite's squeaky Baby June is a joy in a foolproof role, and Nana's Louuise manages the transition from wallflower to burlesque queen smartly and convincingly. Local favorite Lew Resseguie manages to hold his own as Herbie.
Kenneth Foy's sets are as clean and crisp and melodic as the Sondheim/Styne score. Occasionally the pit orchestra overpowers the vocalists, and the Wolf Trap acoustics tend to give the instrumental score a tinny sound. But Phil Fradkin keeps his musicians towing the rhythmic line with precision.
One song - "Let Me Entertain You" - best capsulizes this show's mixed feelings about American dreams. It turns from a child routine to stripper's anthem. The "tricks" it mentions lose all their innocence but even at their grimiest moments the singers do, indeed, entertain. "Gypsy" does give us a real good time even while challenging the source of its own entainment.