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Gypsy: A Musical Fable

Gypsy is a 1959 musical with music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, and a book by Arthur Laurents. It is usually referred to as simply Gypsy. Gypsy is based on the 1957 memoirs of Gypsy Rose Lee, the famous striptease artist, and focuses on her mother, Rose, whose name has become synonymous with "the ultimate show business mother." In particular, it follows the dreams and efforts of Rose to raise two daughters to perform onstage and casts an affectionate eye on the hardships of show business life. The character of Louise is based on Lee, and the character of June is based on Lee's sister, the actress June Havoc.

The musical contains many songs that became popular standards, including "Small World," "Everything's Coming up Roses", "You'll Never Get Away from Me," and "Let Me Entertain You." It is frequently considered one of the crowning achievements of the mid-20th century's conventional musical theatre art form, often called the "book musical."

Gypsy has been referred to as the greatest American musical by numerous critics and writers, among them Ben Brantley and Frank Rich; Rich even goes so far as to call it the American musical theatre's answer to King Lear. Theater critic Clive Barnes wrote that "Gypsy is one of the best of musicals...." He described the character of Rose as "one of the few truly complex characters in the American musical...."

Background and analysis

A musical based on the memoirs of Gypsy Rose Lee was a project of producer David Merrick and actress Ethel Merman. Merrick had read a chapter of Lee's memoirs in Harper's Magazine and approached Lee to obtain the rights. Jerome Robbins was interested, and wanted Leland Hayward as co-producer; Merman also wanted Hayward to produce her next show. Merrick and Hayward approached Arthur Laurents to write the book. As he relates, Laurents initially was not interested until he saw that the story was one of parents living their children's lives. Composers Irving Berlin and Cole Porter turned the show down. Finally, Robbins asked Stephen Sondheim, who agreed to do it. Sondheim had worked with Robbins and Laurents on the musical West Side Story. However, Merman did not want an unknown composer, and wanted Jule Styne to write the music. Although Sondheim initially refused to write only the lyrics, he was persuaded by Oscar Hammerstein to accept the job. The creative team was in place.

In analyzing the character of Rose, Clive Barnes described her as "bossy, demanding, horrific...." Rich described Rose as "a monster". Critic Walter Kerr commented that though Rose is a monster, she must be liked and understood.Patti LuPone describes Rose as follows: "She has tunnel vision, she's driven, and she loves her kids.... And she is a survivor. I do not see her as a monster at all — she may do monstrous things, but that does not make a monster. Sondheim has said of the character: "The fact that she's monstrous to her daughters and the world is secondary.... She's a very American character, a gallant figure and a life force." Sondheim also noted, "Yet the end of Gypsy is not entirely bleak. Louise comes out a star and forgives her mother. There is hope for her. Rose does confront who she is in 'Rose's Turn.' There is a catharsis. It's not Rodgers and Hammerstein, but you feel maybe the mother and daughter will come to an understanding and maybe triumph over Rose's craziness and Louise's bitterness."

Plot summary

Act I Rose and her two daughters, Baby June and Louise, play the vaudeville circuit around the United States during the Great Depression. Rose, the archetype of a stage mother, is aggressive and domineering, pushing her children to perform. While June is an extroverted, talented child star, the older girl, Louise, is shy. The kiddie act has one song, "Let Me Entertain You", that they sing over and over again, with June always as the center-piece and Louise often as one of the "boys". Rose has big dreams for the girls but encounters setbacks, as she tells her father:
When I think of all the sights that I gotta see and,
All the places I gotta play,
All the things that I gotta be and—
Come on, Poppa, whaddaya say? ("Some People")
Finally, when Rose meets a former agent, Herbie, she persuades him to become their manager using her seductive and feminine wiles ("Small World"). As the girls grow up, June, now billed as Dainty June, tires of life on the road and her mother's smothering pushiness, and she runs away with one of the boys in the act. Rose optimistically vows that she will make Louise a star, proclaiming that "Everything's Coming up Roses." Act II Louise is now a young woman, and Rose has built a pale imitation of the Dainty June Act for her. Using all girls, instead of boys, Rose and Herbie try valiantly to sell "Madame Rose's Toreadorables" to a fading vaudeville industry. With no vaudeville venues left, Louise and her second rate act wind up at a burlesque house in Wichita, Kansas. Rose is anguished, as she sees what a booking in burlesque means to her dreams of success. Herbie proposes to Rose. He asks her to break up the act and let Louise have a normal life, and she reluctantly accepts. During the run, three of the strippers on the bill advise Louise on what it takes to be a successful stripper, a "gimmick", something that "makes your strip special" ("You Gotta Get a Gimmick"). On the last day of the booking, the star stripper in the burlesque show is arrested for solicitation. Desperate, Rose cannot resist the urge to give Louise another nudge toward stardom, and she volunteers Louise to do the strip tease as a last-minute replacement. Disgusted at Rose's blind ambition for her daughter, Herbie walks out on Rose forever. Although reluctant, Louise wants to please her mother and she goes on. Shy and hesitant, she sings a titillating version of "Let Me Entertain You", the song that their kiddie act had used. She removes only her glove. The audience goes wild, and this becomes Louise's "gimmick".

In the months that follow she becomes secure, always following her mother's advice to "Make 'em beg for more, and then don't give it to them!" This is demonstrated in a montage in which the song becomes brasher and brassier, and more and more articles of clothing come off. Ultimately, Louise becomes a major burlesque star and does not need her mother any longer. Herbie and June are both gone, and Rose, sad and feeling useless, asks "Why did I do it? When is it my turn?" ("Rose's Turn"). She fantasizes about her own lit up runway and cheering audience, but finally admits "I did it for me." Mother and daughter tentatively step toward reconciliation in the end.

Songs

Act I

  • Overture - Orchestra
  • Let Me Entertain You - Baby June and Baby Louise
  • Some People - Rose
  • Small World - Rose and Herbie
  • Baby June and Her Newsboys - Baby June and Newsboys
  • Mr. Goldstone, I Love You † - Rose, Herbie, Ensemble
  • Little Lamb - Louise
  • You'll Never Get Away From Me - Rose and Herbie
  • Dainty June and Her Farmboys - June and Farmboys
  • If Momma Was Married - June and Louise
  • All I Need is the Girl - Tulsa and Louise
  • Everything's Coming Up Roses - Rose
Act II

  • Madame Rose's Toreadorables - Louise, Rose and the Hollywood Blondes
  • Together Wherever We Go - Rose, Herbie, and Louise
  • You Gotta Get a Gimmick - Mazeppa, Electra, and Tessie Tura
  • Let Me Entertain You †† - Louise
  • Rose's Turn - Rose

Notes on the songs
† Titled "Have an Eggroll, Mr. Goldstone" in the 2008 revival
†† Titled "The Strip" in the 2008 revival and on the recording of the 1989 revival.

During the pre-Broadway tryout tour, several songs were cut, including a song for Herbie called "Nice She Ain't" (cut because it was given to Jack Klugman one week prior to opening and he could not memorize the keys and staging one week before. ), and a song for Baby June and Baby Louise titled "Mama's Talkin' Soft". The latter song was cut because the staging required the little girls to stand on a platform elevated above the stage. The young actress playing Baby Louise was terrified and the song was cut. "Mama's Talkin' Soft" was later recorded by Petula Clark and released as a single in the UK in 1959.

Productions

  • 1959 Original Broadway production

The original production opened on May 21, 1959, at The Broadway Theatre, moved to the Imperial Theatre, and ran for 702 performances after 2 previews. Produced by David Merrick it starred Ethel Merman, Jack Klugman, Maria Karnilova, and Sandra Church in the title role. Direction and choreography were by Jerome Robbins; critic Frank Rich has referred to Robbins's work as one of the most influential stagings of a musical in American theatrical history. The original production received eight Tony Award nominations, including best musical, best musical actress, best featured actor, best featured actress, best scenic design, best costume design, and best direction of a musical, but failed to win any.

After the show closed on Broadway in March 1961, two national touring companies toured the United States. The first company starred Merman and opened in March 1961 at the Rochester, New York Auditorium, and closed in December 1961 at the American, St. Louis, Missouri. The second national company starred Mary McCarty as Rose and a young Bernadette Peters in various ensemble roles; it opened in September 1961 at the Shubert Theatre, Detroit and closed in January 1962 at the Hanna, Cleveland, Ohio.

  • 1973 London and 1974 Broadway revival

Gypsy opened in London's West End on May 29, 1973, at the Piccadilly Theatre and played for 300 performances. The director was Arthur Laurents, and the choreography was reproduced by Robert Tucker. It starred Angela Lansbury as Rose, with Zan Charisse as Louise, Barry Ingham as Herbie, Debbie Bowen as the older June, and Bonnie Langford as Dainty June. On September 23, 1974, the same production opened at Broadway's Winter Garden Theatre for a planned limited run of 120 performances after 4 previews. The cast remained mostly the same in New York, but Rex Robbins was Herbie, Maureen Moore (later Bernadette Peters' understudy as Rose in the 2003 revival) played the adult June, and Mary Louise Wilson was Tessie Tura.

  • 1989 Broadway revival

Opened on November 16, 1989, at the St. James Theatre, moved to the Marquis Theatre, and ran for 476 performances after 23 previews. Laurents again directed. Tyne Daly played Rose (later replaced by Linda Lavin), with Jonathan Hadary and Crista Moore.

A 1998 production featuring Betty Buckley and Deborah Gibson at the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, New Jersey was rumored to be Broadway bound, but a production did not materialize.

  • 2003 Broadway revival

This revival opened on May 1, 2003, at the Shubert Theatre and closed on May 30, 2004, after 451 performances and 33 previews. It was directed by Sam Mendes with choreography by Jerome Robbins and additional choreography by Jerry Mitchell. Bernadette Peters starred as "Rose", with Tammy Blanchard (Louise/Gypsy) and John Dossett (Herbie) co-starring. New York Times theatre critic Ben Brantley wrote that Peters' performance was the first "to have broken the Merman mold." This production became somewhat controversial when Peters missed performances during previews and early in the run due to illness, and the show closed at a loss despite running more than a year. The production was expected to recoup a little more than half its $8 million investment.

From August 11-13, 2006, Patti LuPone played Rose in Chicago's Ravinia Festival semi-staged production.

Gypsy was presented by Encores! from July 9 to 29, with Patti LuPone again playing Rose, and direction by Arthur Laurents. Principal casting included Laura Benanti in the title role of "Gypsy/Louise", with Boyd Gaines as "Herbie", Leigh Ann Larkin as "Dainty June", Alison Fraser as "Tessie Tura", Nancy Opel as "Mazeppa"/"Miss Cratchitt", and Marilyn Caskey as "Electra".

  • 2007-2008 North American tour

Gypsy was presented by Phoenix Entertainment with Kathy Halenda starring as Rose and Missy Dowse as Louise. The production was directed by Sam Viverto and assisted by Aja Kane. Principal casting also included Ruby Lewis as June, Rachel Abrams as Mazeppa, Loriann Freda as Tessie Tura, Nick Hamel as Herbie, and Maria Egler as Electra. Baby Louise was Kristina Lachaga, and Baby June was Claire Norden. The tour ended in May 2008.

  • 2008 Broadway revival

The Encores! production is being revived on Broadway at the St. James Theatre. Previews started March 3, 2008, with the official opening March 27. Patti LuPone (Rose), Boyd Gaines (Herbie), Laura Benanti (Louise) and Leigh Ann Larkin (Dainty June) repeat their roles, with Arthur Laurents again directing and Bonnie Walker reproducing the original choreography by Jerome Robbins. They are joined by Tony Yazbeck as Tulsa, Marilyn Caskey as Electra, Alison Fraser as Tessie, and Lenora Nemetz as Mazeppa with Sami Gayle as Baby June. The set is designed by James Youmans, costumes by Martin Pakledinaz and lighting by Howell Binkley

New York Times critic Ben Brantley gave the production a rave review, praising LuPone, Laurents and the rest of the principal cast, and describing the characterizations achieved in the production as follows:

"You see, everyone's starved for attention in 'Gypsy.' That craving, after all, is the motor that keeps showbiz puttering along. And Mr. Laurents makes sure that we sense that hunger in everyone.... I was so caught up in the emotional wrestling matches between the characters (and within themselves), that I didn't really think about the songs as songs.... There is no separation at all between song and character, which is what happens in those uncommon moments when musicals reach upward to achieve their ideal reasons to be.

This production won three Tony Awards and three Drama Desk Awards, in each case for the performances by Lupone, Gaines and Benanti.

Film and TV versions

Rosalind Russell, Karl Malden, and Natalie Wood starred in the 1962 Warner Bros. film version of the musical.

Gypsy was also adapted as a television movie in 1993 with Bette Midler playing Rose. Cynthia Gibb portrayed Louise and Jennifer Beck portrayed Dainty June. Bette Midler won the Golden Globe Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for TV; Michael Rafter won the Emmy Award for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Music Direction. This production is known for being a rare example of a film/TV project in which some the songs are sung "live", and not sync'd to a pre-recorded track.

Broadway casts

Principal casts of the Broadway productions of Gypsy (Original Broadway Cast and Revivals):
Casts of Broadway productions of Gypsy
Productions Rose Louise Dainty June Herbie Director
1959 OBC Ethel Merman Sandra Church Lane Bradbury Jack Klugman Jerome Robbins
1974 Revival Angela Lansbury Zan Charisse Maureen Moore Rex Robbins Arthur Laurents
1989 Revival Tyne Daly Crista Moore Tracy Venner Jonathan Hadary Arthur Laurents
2003 Revival Bernadette Peters Tammy Blanchard Kate Reinders John Dossett Sam Mendes
2008 Revival Patti LuPone Laura Benanti Leigh Ann Larkin Boyd Gaines Arthur Laurents

Recordings

There are recordings of each of the Broadway and London productions, as well as the film and television productions. The original 1959 and revival 2003 cast albums each won the Grammy Award, Best Original Cast Show Album.

The original Broadway cast album is notable as Ethel Merman's first recording in the then-new stereophonic sound technology. Motion pictures recorded in stereo had been steadily made since 1953, and stereo was first used on magnetic tape in 1954, but it was not until 1958, a year before Gypsy opened, that it became possible to use this technology on records.

The 1974 Broadway recording was not an actual recording of the Broadway revival, but a remix of the London Cast recording of 1973 with a new recording of "Some People".

The 2008 Broadway cast recording was released August 28, 2008.

Awards and nominations

1959 Original Production
Tony Awards Best Musical Leading Actress
(Ethel Merman)
Featured Actor
(Jack Klugman)
Featured Actress
(Sandra Church)
Scenic Design
(Jo Mielziner)
Costume Design
(Raoul Pène Du Bois)
Best Direction Best Director
(Jerome Robbins)
Note: The 1959 Tony Award for Best Musical was won jointly by Fiorello and The Sound of Music, the latter of which dominated the Awards.
1974 Revival
Tony Awards Leading Actress
(Angela Lansbury)*
Featured Actress
(Zan Charisse)
Direction
Drama Desk Awards Outstanding Actress (Lansbury)* Outstanding Featured Actress
(Bonnie Langford)*
Outstanding Director*
Theatre World Awards Zan Charisse* John Sheridan*
1989 Revival
Tony Awards Best Revival* Leading Actress
(Tyne Daly)*
Featured Actor
(Jonathan Hadary)
Featured Actress
(Crista Moore)
Drama Desk Award Outstanding Actress (Daly)* Outstanding Featured Actor (Hadary) Outstanding Featured Actress (Moore) Outstanding Revival*
Theatre World Award Robert Lambert* Crista Moore*
2003 Revival
Tony Awards Best Revival Leading Actress
(Bernadette Peters)
Featured Actor
(John Dossett)
Featured Actress
(Tammy Blanchard)
Drama Desk Awards Outstanding Revival Outstanding Actress (Peters) Outstanding Featured Actor (Dossett)
Theatre World Award Tammy Blanchard*
2008 Revival
Tony Awards Best Revival Leading Actress (Lupone) * Featured Actor (Gaines) * Featured Actress (Benanti) *
Costume Design (Martin Pakledinaz) Sound Design (Dan Moses Schreier) Direction (Laurents)
Drama Desk Awards Outstanding Revival Outstanding Actress (LuPone) * Outstanding Featured Actor (Gaines) * Outstanding Featured Actress (Benanti) *
Outer Critics Circle Award Outstanding Revival of a Musical Outstanding Director of a Musical (Laurents) Outstanding Actor in a Musical (Gaines) Outstanding Actress in a Musical (LuPone) *
Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical (Yazbeck) Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical (Benanti) *
Note: Winners indicated by an asterisk (*).

References

External links

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