Jule Styne and Stephen Sondheim: Gypsy

Patti LuPone, Laura Benanti, Boyd Gaines, Orchestra/Vaccariello (Time-Life M19659)

26 August 2008 4 stars

GypsyJust as Patti LuPone's performance as Rose in the current Broadway revival of Styne and Sondheim's Gypsy is the stuff of legend, so too is the cast album very special.

Yet wonderful as LuPone is on the CD, the attraction for me is the inclusion of seven bonus tracks that consist of cut or unused songs from the show, and they've even been orchestrated (by the great Jonathan Tunick) rather than left in the piano-vocal scoring of the manuscript source material. 'Tomorrow's Mother's Day' and the alternate 'Mother's Day' were bits of music for the vaudeville acts, and 'Three Wishes for Christmas' was originally part of 'The Strip'; interesting though they are, these numbers were never meant to be wonderful songs. 'Momma's Talkin' Soft' was a counterpoint for the two children to sing during 'Small World' as an ironic comment on Rose and Herbie's duet, and had been previously recorded with just the children's part on the Lost in Boston III album. Having now heard it running alongside 'Small World', I'm taken aback by the inadequacy of the contrapuntal writing and not surprised it was cut (though supposedly this happened because the two girls were meant to sing their part from high above the stage and one of them suffered from vertigo).

However, the other three songs are character numbers that are well worth hearing: 'Nice She Ain't' is Herbie's song about Rose (during the restaurant scene) and 'Who Needs Him?' is hers about him (it was replaced by a reprise of 'Small World'). The former is an adequate Broadway number, but the latter is quite a savage and gritty song in which Rose sings that she doesn't need Herbie to survive. Nevertheless, my favourite of the appendix songs is 'Smile, Girls', a witty habanera in which Rose tells the girls to 'smile…and you'll lay them in the aisle'. There's a wonderful touch in the lyrics as Rose goes down the line of girls (all of whom she has scooped off the street, unpaid, to act as her daughter's backing chorus), telling them individually to smile, then forgets the name of the fourth child: 'Smile, Agnes, smile, Delores, smile, Thelma, smile – whatever-your-name-is'. The lightness of touch but brilliant characterisation of the number shows Broadway at its best and I could well imagine the song being usefully reinstated.

Yet the main event, of course, is the document of the show as it's being currently performed. American readers can benefit from a bonus disc available from Barnes and Noble in which additional orchestral numbers and snatches of dialogue are offered, but the standard issue is generous enough with nineteen tracks from the show (excluding the bonus numbers). LuPone's contributions are mostly excellent, especially a persuasive 'You'll Never Get Away from Me', a ferocious 'Some People' and a light-hearted 'Together Wherever We Go', in which the chemistry with Boyd Gaines' Herbie and Laura Benanti's Louise is palpable (all three won Tony Awards for their performances). My only slight disappointment is in 'Rose's Turn' which is vocally competent but somehow lacking in the sense of danger, and particularly the psychological extremity, of the performance I saw LuPone give in the theatre. Nevertheless, this is undoubtedly a role assumption to rank with the best.

I wasn't keen on Benanti in the theatre and am still left cold when hearing her on disc: she's fine in the ensemble numbers ('If Momma Was Married', in which she's paired with the excellent Leigh Ann Larkin as Dainty June, for instance), but I find 'The Strip' dull. Nevertheless, the other cast members are mostly fine, with a lovely rendition of 'All I Need is the Girl' from Tony Yazbeck, and the amazingly large orchestra is captured with plenty of bloom and conducted with a sense of urgency by Patrick Vaccariello. The bonus tracks alone make it an essential purchase for the musical theatre enthusiast: unless LuPone is not to your taste, don't hesitate.

By Dominic McHugh