Gypsy (musical)

Gypsy is a 1959 musical with music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, and a book by Arthur Laurents. Gypsy is loosely 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." 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 "Everything's Coming up Roses", "Together (Wherever We Go)", "Small World", "Some People", "Let Me Entertain You", "All I Need Is the Girl", and "Rose's Turn". 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 ("what may be the greatest of all American musicals...") and Frank Rich. Rich wrote that "Gypsy is nothing if not Broadway's own brassy, unlikely answer to 'King Lear.'" Theater critic Clive Barnes wrote that "'Gypsy' is one of the best of musicals..." and described the character of Rose as "one of the few truly complex characters in the American musical...."

    Background

    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 declined the project. 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.

    Synopsis

    Act I

    Rose and her two daughters, Baby June and Louise, play the vaudeville circuit around the United States in the early 1920s. 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" ("Baby June and Her Newsboys"). Rose has big dreams for the girls but encounters setbacks, as she tells her father ("Some People"). When Rose meets a former agent, Herbie, she persuades him to become their manager using her seductive and feminine wiles ("Small World"). The girls grow up, and June, now billed as Dainty June, and her act have a chance to perform for Mr. Goldstone ("Mr. Goldstone, I Love You"). Meanwhile, Louise celebrates her birthday alone and asks her birthday present, a lamb, just how old she is this year ("Little Lamb"). After Rose rejects Herbie's marriage proposal, he considers leaving, but she asserts that he could never get away from her ("You'll Never Get Away From Me"). Now billed as "Dainty June and Her Farmboys", the act finally performs on the Orpheum Circuit ("Dainty June and Her Farmboys"). June is soon offered a place at a Performing Arts school after an audition. However, Rose turns this down, refusing to break up the act. Louise and June fantasize what life would be like if Rose were married and finished with show business ("If Mama was Married"). A few months later, still on the road from show to show, Tulsa, one of the boys from the act, confides in Louise that he has been working on his own act ("All I Need Is The Girl"), and Louise fantasizes that she and he could do the act together. Shortly after, June is missing, and in a note she explains that she has grown sick of her mother and the endless tour and has eloped with Tulsa, and they will do a new act. Rose is hurt, but then 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, Rose and Herbie try valiantly to sell "Madame Rose's Toreadorables" to a fading vaudeville industry. However, they are still together ("Together, Wherever We Go"). With no vaudeville venues left, Louise and her second-rate act wind up accidentally booked at a burlesque house in Wichita, Kansas, as a means to deter police raids. Rose is anguished, as she sees what a booking in burlesque means to her dreams of success, but Louise persuades her that two weeks' pay for the new act is better than unemployment. As they are introduced to Louise, three of the strippers on the bill advise her on what it takes to be a successful stripper, a "gimmick," something that "makes your strip special" ("You Gotta Get a Gimmick"). Backstage, Rose proposes marriage to Herbie. He asks her to break up the act and let Louise have a normal life, and she reluctantly accepts, agreeing to marry the day after their show closes. 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 ("Small World" Reprise). Although reluctant, Louise wants to please her mother and she goes on, assured by Rose that she needn't actually strip, but simply walk elegantly and tease by dropping a single shoulder strap. Shy and hesitant, she sings a titillating version of the old kiddie act song, "Let Me Entertain You". She removes only her glove, but she speaks directly to her 'audience', which becomes her "gimmick" ("Let Me Entertain You (Gypsy Strip Tease)").

    In the months that follow Louise becomes secure, always following her mother's advice to "Make 'em beg for more, and then don't give it to them!" 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. After a bitter argument between Rose and Louise, who has become the sophisticated "Gypsy Rose Lee," Rose realizes Herbie and June are both gone, and now Louise is lost to her as well. Rose, feeling sad, useless and bitter, asks "Why did I do it? What did it get me?" ("Rose's Turn"). All of Rose's unrequited dreams of her own stardom and her personal demons surface. She fantasizes about her own lit-up runway and cheering audience, but finally admits "I did it for me." After her admission to Louise, Mother and daughter tentatively step toward reconciliation in the end.

    • In the 1974 and 2008 Broadway revivals, although the final dialogue scene remains, there is not a happy ending, but rather a bleak, sad one as all hopes of reconciliation for Rose and Louise fall flat when Louise walks away, laughing sarcastically at Rose's new "dream." The audience is then left with a Rose whose dream of her own lit up marquee slowly fades away to her craziness within taking over.
    • In the 2003 revival starring Bernadette Peters, the final dialogue scene remains, but leaves the ending open to more interpretation from the audience. Louise walks through the stage door, with Rose following behind. Rose then turns to face the audience, a look of sadness and longing on her face as she takes one last look at the empty stage. She pauses and slowly closes the door.
    • In the 2015 West End revival starring Imelda Staunton, Louise begins to walk out, and Rose catches up after waking up to reality. Louise puts her arm around Rose as they exit together, giving off the appearance that Louise is taking care of Rose instead.

    Songs

    Notes on songs

    External links

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