THE SHOW “Gypsy”
WHEN | WHERE Friday at 9 p.m. on WNET/13
WHAT IT’S ABOUT For reasons unknown, London did not have a revival of “Gypsy” for more than 40 years. Then came director Jonathan Kent’s ecstatically received production, starring Imelda Staunton, the British force of nature who, for equally inexplicable reasons, has never been seen on Broadway.
Word of a Broadway transfer has now been pushed back to 2018. This delay further builds anticipation for a chance to see one of the more perfect musicals ever written in a production that won four 2016 Olivier Awards — including ones for best revival, Staunton’s Mama Rose and Lara Pulver as Louise, the lesser daughter in the vaudeville sister act, who transforms into the famously elegant stripper, Gypsy Rose Lee.
Since the 1959 premiere, New York has had five very different portrayals of Rose — Ethel Merman, Angela Lansbury, Tyne Daly, Bernadette Peters and Patti LuPone — in what remains one of the greatest woman’s role in arguably the most satisfying backstage musical of the American theater’s golden age.
Based on the early memoirs of Gypsy Rose Lee, Arthur Laurents’ book manages to trace both the declining life of a strong woman born into the wrong generation and the decline of vaudeville. Jule Styne’s brassy melodies and Stephen Sondheim’s dazzling lyrics gave us “Let Me Entertain You,” “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” and many less famous, but no less brilliant numbers — all seamlessly integrated into the story and characters.
MY SAY In other words, the introduction of a new “Gypsy” is always an event. And a chance to watch Staunton is valuable for more than just musical-theater lovers.
But the show was filmed onstage during a performance at the Chichester Festival Theatre before the move to London’s West End. Although many live performances have been thrillingly transferred for broader audiences, this one feels stagy and frozen in time. The actors, even the subtle Staunton, seem to be playing to the back of the house, which they have every obligation to do.
But the result on TV lacks intimacy. The production, filmed by American Lonny Price, has camera angles that make everyone look a bit squat. Kent’s direction is basically in a conventional retelling of the story. Scenes, surrounded by darkness, seem to be floating in some faraway place without emotional immediacy.
Still, it is a treat to see Staunton, who is not a belter but a shaper of nuanced song. She plays Rose as a combination of an aging Kewpie-doll and a thug, and she gives the wrenching finale, “Rose’s Turn,” the musical equivalent of a classic, life-altering soliloquy. It’s worth waiting for the Broadway staging, but it is still quite a wait.
BOTTOM LINE A stagy souvenir of the celebrated London “Gypsy.”