“I had a dream, a dream about you, baby…”
With those words, the lead character of the Broadway musical “Gypsy,” Rose, articulates her raison d’etre. This is who she is; a woman with a dream, a dream so great that when she cannot live it for herself, she forces it upon her children. As such, Mama Rose becomes obsessed with success; obsessed with making her dreams a reality.
There are many reasons why Barbra Streisand is — and has been — drawn to “Gypsy.” First and foremost, it’s one of the greatest musical roles ever written for a woman. Rose is deeper than Dolly, more complicated that Mame, perhaps even more psychologically flawed than Norma in “Sunset Boulevard.”
Rose is a driven, hungry, single-mindedly and ultimately unfulfilled woman… Some have described her as a monster; a stage-mother who is a force of nature and a detriment to her daughters.
But to me, Rose has always been a character who is frustrated and faces obstacles at every turn. Yet she perseveres. There’s something admirable about her never-say-die attitude, even in the face of the collapse of the show business she knows and loves: vaudeville.
When success does finally come, Louise become the world-famous stripper Gypsy Rose Lee. It’s not Rose’s victory and she cannot lay claim to it. It’s a hollow victory for Rose, and turns “Gypsy” from a musical comedy into a musical tragedy.
But don’t be turned off by the word ‘tragedy.’ Because along the way, “Gypsy” is a musical loaded with entertainment and joy. The tragic elements are subtextual, while on the surface it’s pure zesty fun. In a nutshell, it’s the story of a mother determined to get her kids to succeed in show business; to make it to the big time — no matter what.
The score, composed and written by Jule Styne (“Funny Girl”) and Stephen Sondheim (“Company,” “Follies,” “A Little Night Music”) is one of the best ever, including the songs “Let Me Entertain You,” “Some People,” “Everything’s Coming Up Roses,” “Together Wherever We Go,” “You’ll Never Get Away from Me,” “All That I Need is the Girl,” “You Gotta Have A Gimmick” and “Rose’s Turn.”
There’s a good reason why so many actresses have wanted to play Rose; she’s a dynamic character. Ethel Merman, Patti Lupone, Tyne Daly, Bette Midler, Bernadette Peters and Angela Lansbury have all tackled the challenge and put their personal stamp on Rose.
Barbra has long harbored a deep desire to play this role. In fact, the late Arthur Laurents (“The Way We Were”), who wrote the play, always wanted Barbra to essay the part. In the mid-1980’s, composer Jule Styne tried to convince Barbra to do a film version then.
It’s interesting that while Barbra has always had a connection to “Gypsy,” she’s avoided doing songs from the score. Was she saving them for some day when she would play Rose? With the exception of a snippet from “Small World” in the “Circus Medley” on “Color Me Barbra,” Barbra has never performed or recorded any of the other songs.
Barbra nearly tackled “Some People” for “The Broadway Album,” but said at the time, that she had trouble getting Ethel Merman’s version out of her head. Presumably now, she has exorcised Ethel from her psyche and will have no trouble with these songs.
Barbra said in 2011, while publicizing “What Matters Most,” that she if she went through with “Gypsy,” it would be an improvement over the previous film versions. Indeed, both the 1962 film starring Rosiland Russell and the 1993 Bette Midler television movie both were heavily criticized.
In the former, Russell’s vocals were dubbed by Lisa Kirk because she wasn’t able to handle the score. In addition, Russell and actress Natalie Wood, who played Louise, clashed off-screen and never really clicked on-screen.
The Midler version, while successful at the time, has not aged well and looks claustrophobic…much like a television movie!
So, the stage is set for Streisand’s “Gypsy” to be the definitive film version. That is the goal for all of the principals involved. This past week, for example, producers Barbra Streisand and Joel Silver announced that they’d hired award-winning writer Julian Fellowes; the creator of “Downton Abbey,” to adapt Laurents’ play into a script.
In the weeks to come, we’ll hear about the behind the scenes personnel; who’s doing the music, who’ll be costarring with Barbra, and most importantly, who’s going to direct. Regarding the latter, at least one legitimate source, TheWrap.com, updated its listing for “Gypsy” with the Fellowes information and included Todd Haynes as director.
That has yet to be confirmed, but Haynes would be a compelling choice. His most recent success was the HBO mini-series, “Mildred Pierce” with Kate Winslet. He was also Oscar-nominated for the Julianne Moore feature: “Far From Heaven.”
Haynes has yet to be confirmed, so it’s not a certainty that he will helm the picture. However, he does have superb credits, excels in period films and elicits wonderful performances from his actors. He also has a background in music; having directed the short “Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story” and the feature “I’m Not There” about Bob Dylan’s life. Haynes could bring an interesting perspective to “Gypsy.”
That’s the status of “Gypsy” for now. A big-budget musical like this will take quite a while to get into production, and because of the “event” nature of the release, it would likely be held for the holiday season. That would mean Barbra Streisand starring in “Gypsy” for Christmas 2013!