GYPSY Rose Lee gained fame for her striptease act during the Depression. Her real name is Rose Louis Havoc. She later also did movies and TV shows and wrote a memoir in 1957 which became the basis of the stage musical, “Gypsy”, in 1959, written by Jules Styne, Stephen Sondheim and Arthur Laurents.
It was a big hit, so it was later made into a movie in 1962, “Gypsy”, that starred Rosalind Russell as her mother, Rose, and Natalie Wood as her, Louise. We saw it as a teenager without knowing it’s a musical but we just fell in love with it, what with the very committed performances of the two lead actresses.
It has two show-stopping numbers, “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” by Rosalind that closes the first act, and Natalie’s sultry version of “Let Me Entertain” you in the finale. Other good production numbers are “If Momma Was Married”, “All I Need is the Girl, “Together Wherever We Go” and the sexy “You Gotta Have a Gimmick”.
We know the film was remade as a TV movie in 1993 but it was never shown here, so we’re so thankful that someone sent us a video. Betty Midler is simply dynamite as Rose. No wonder she won the Golden Globe best actress award for a TV movie. Cynthia Gibb as Louise looks like the late Natalie Wood.
The storyline remains the same. Rose is a domineering stage mother with two cute little daughters who she trains to be vaudeville stars. June is her favorite and Louise is the one taken for granted and merely plays support to her more talented sister. Rose finds a devoted friend and admirer in Herbie Sommers (Peter Riegert, played by Karl Malden in the first movie), who helps her manage her daughters. \
As the years pass, the girls grow up but Rose continues to push them to act like child stars. June rebels and elopes with one of their male chorus dancers. Rose is crushed and feels betrayed. This is where she gets to sing “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” where she decides to focus all her energy and attention in building up Louise now that June is gone.
But vaudeville acts are on the wane since movies now attract more audiences in theatres. The only acts on stage that continue to flourish are the burlesque acts where scantily clad women gyrate on stage. Rose looks down on these dancers who peddle their naked bodies.
But when one of the regular strippers gets arrested, the theater owner offers Louise her post as replacement. Rose is against it but Louise got tired of her controlling mother’s continuous interference and tells her to leave her alone. This leads to Rose’s final musical number on an empty stage, “Rose’s Turn”.
No doubt the movie is a showcase for Bette’s brassy portrayal of Rose. Many other actresses have performed the role, like Rosalind Russell (she won Golden Globe best actress for the first film version), Ethel Merman (who originated the role on stage), Angela Lansbury (she won the Tony best actress plum in the 1973 revival), Bernadette Peters, Imelda Staunton (she won the Olivier award in the 20215 Westend revival), Patty Lupone (you can see clips of their performances in youtube), but Bette’s version is one where everything is really coming up roses all right!
She is just sensational in the role of the ultimate meddlesome stage mom, mixing a perfect blend of sparkling energy and a lot of heart with her outstanding vocal skills to make her the guiding force of the movie who’s got nothing to hit but the heights.
The film is a star-making turn for Cynthia Gibb, a former model who first shone in the musical TV series, “Fame”. She’s now still active mostly on TV, doing Christmas-themed films like “Sharing Christmas”, “Ivy and Mistletoe” and “Christmas on the Menu”.
The film’s director is Emile Ardolino, who previously did successful hit musicals on the big screen “Dirty Dancing” and “Sister Act”. He died of the big C soon after completing “Gypsy”, where he did one of his best works ever. “Gypsy” is truly an entertaining musical, whether on stage or on film.