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Shows Worth Seeing:




By William Shakespeare
Lyceum Theatre
149 W. 45th St.
Box office: (212) 239-6200





After four scenes in which Patrick Stewart has seized hold of the role of Macbeth with all the furious strength of a leaping predator, it is positively thrilling to see Kate Fleetwood doing exactly the same with Lady Macbeth. All the half-dozen good productions of this play I have seen have had one or another weak player at the top. When both performances are as strong as this, though—as sharply delineated, forcefully delivered, complementary in their different paranoias and bonded with real chemistry—then the terrible majesty of this terrifying masterpiece comes into focus. The setting by Anthony Ward—a dingy, tiled basement with stainless steel appurtenances resembling an autopsy room—is fabulously creepy and interestingly flexible, even if it can’t really stretch to fit all the play’s locations. The witches are cleverly transformed into a sort of malevolent chorus: now homicidal nurses, now maidservants from hell. The show isn’t perfect. There are two unfocused performances (of Malcolm and Lady Macduff). And the modern totalitarian (Stalinist? fascist?) background implied by the 1930s costumes, props and projected film clips is a tired trope by now. Directors use it to bring the reality of arbitrary power closer to home, but it makes nonsense of all praise for leaders in the play (including Duncan and Malcolm) and reduces everything to a blanket cynicism that isn’t what Shakespeare wrote and feels too easy. Still, so much is right in this show, particularly in the aspects hardest to get right, that the problems pale in comparison. This is a rare event, not to be missed.





South Pacific
By Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II
Vivian Beaumont
150 W. 65th St.
Box office: (212) 239-6200





There are many musical lovers who have known South Pacific only from the 1958 movie Joshua Logan directed starring Mitzi Gaynor and Rossano Brazzi. That’s because the Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization has kept a tight lid on professional stage productions, fearing, I suspect, that the time was never quite right for a fresh blast of American optimism and international benevolence in the form of this Michener-inspired tale of sailors and airmen holed up on a Pacific island while itching to get into the war against the Japanese. That judgment may have been correct. But the result has been that those too young to have seen the original Broadway production starring Mary Martin and Ezio Pinza, which ran from 1949 to 1953, have had to assess this work mainly on the basis of its lovely songs and a really dumb Hollywood adaptation that gives no sense of why anyone was ever interested in the drama. R&H were justifiably proud of how their shows worked as drama. And this one has a lot to say to the present moment, which has all but lost faith in the very notion of a “good war.” Even more than other musicals, South Pacific pales on film, because almost all its transitions (scene to scene, speech to song, mood to mood) are crucially dependant on conventions we readily accept onstage but find childish and artificial onscreen. So it’s wonderful to see it back in its full living glory in this splendid new production directed by Bartlett Sher. With her blonde pixie curls and peppy insouciance, Kelli O’Hara is exactly the right actress for Ensign Nelli Forbush—a wholesome hayseed, trumpet-voiced beauty who feels transported out of 1953 to make men want to marry her rather than just sleep with her. And Paulo Szot, the Brazilian opera star who plays the French planter Emile de Becque, is a great find: a gorgeous baritone with an easygoing machismo that projects moral uprightness. South Pacific will not make you trash your VCR or DVD player, but it will make you glad you left them home for a night.




By Arthur Laurents, Julie Styne and Stephen Sondheim
St. James Theatre
246 W. 44th St.
Box office: (212) 239-6200






Ethel Merman, around whom the musical Gypsy was built in 1958-59, reportedly once said she would shoot anyone else who got the lead part of Rose. Patti Lupone, by contrast, behaves as if the role were hers by right, passed to her as a sort of torch. This isn’t all bad, though it had me worried for a half hour or so. Rose is, of course, the domineering gorgon of a stage-mother taken from the autobiography of Gypsy Rose Lee, who pushes her children to pursue the sort of stage career she never had herself. Now in its fourth Broadway revival, Gypsy seems to need no other reason for returning to New York than that another diva of a certain age has achieved the clout to want it to. For the first few scenes of this new incarnation, which Arthur Laurents directed, Lupone seemed to me to be phoning it in. She wasn’t connecting with her fellow actors (even a dominatrix has to connect through domination) and she seemed downright impatient with the business of establishing background about her family and life before vaudeville, etc. Once the family gets on the road, though, Lupone finds her equilibrium and gathers a head of steam that is blistering by intermission. She isn’t as sexy a Rose as either Bernedette Peters or Tyne Daly, but strangely enough (given her problems early on) she makes up for it in the end with realism. Any Rose is ultimately measured by what she makes of the big character-defining numbers “Some People,” “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” and “Rose’s Turn,” and Lupone makes them into a kind of three-part, dynamic daydream that she dares everyone else to interrupt. There’s something magnificently cracked, rather than iron-willed, in this portrayal, which acquires an emotional weight you don’t expect. The transformation of Laura Benanti from shy and sexless daughter Louise into the voluptuous star stripper Gypsy Rose Lee is also a delightful marvel.



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