Everything's Coming Up Roses for Peters

05/02/2003 AT 11:06 AM EDT

Broadway loves drama -- especially when it involves a musical. In the case of Thursday night's opening of the revival of the 1959 classic "Gypsy," all the makings were there.

The grapevine had it that theater darling Bernadette Peters was about to headline New York's first and only flop version of the stage bio, about famed stripper Gypsy Rose Lee and her monstrous stage mother, Rose.

Then came Friday morning's valentines to Peters from no less than New York Times critic Ben Brantley, the New York Post's Clive Barnes and The Washington Post's Peter Marks.

All three admitted they'd heard the pre-opening rumors, that the kewpie-doll-like Peters, 55, wasn't tough enough to handle a role created for Ethel Merman and then later memorably revived on Broadway by Angela Lansbury and Tyne Daly, in the movies by Rosalind Russell and on TV by Bette Midler.

But the rumors, apparently, were wrong. "She's a downright sexy Rose," writes Marks, "and that's just swell ... If she hasn't earned the right to play this legendary showbiz terrorist, who has?"

"Petite and pretty ... Peters sings with enormous character and appeal," notes Barnes, "and acts with total conviction."

But the real rave came from Brantley in The Times, which arguably still carries the most weight when it comes to selling theater tickets.

"You can tear down the black crepe, boys," he writes in answer to the skeptics. "Take the hearse back to the garage, and start popping Champagne corks. Momma's pulled it off, after all -- big time."

And there to see it all happen opening night were, among others, Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson, Sigourney Weaver, Matthew Broderick, Nathan Lane, Mia Farrow and Kate Winslet, whose companion Sam Mendes directed the revival -- and will no doubt be the one popping the most Champagne corks this weekend.

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