Can you remember that scene in Gypsy when Mama Rose has been deserted by both her daughters, actress June and stripper Gypsy, and takes to an empty stage to sing the ultimate eleven o’clock number Rose’s Turn? As you know, the eleven 0′ clock number is a belter towards the end of Act 2 when a character delivers a rip-roaring ‘down in flames this is me’ anthem. All the pent-up frustration as a failed performer combusts with Rose’s bitterness at her girls’ ingratitude explodes from the mouth of the stage mother to end all others. The number is quite simply electrifying.
So it is not coincidental that divas of a certain age demand the role of Mama Rose as a rite of passage. Gypsy must be the most revived show in Broadway history. In addition to Rose’s Turn, the character is given the manic rant in song Everything’s Coming Up Roses that closes Act 1. I had the great good fortune to see Patti Lupone’s Mama Rose on Broadway. I don’t think there’s another performer more in tune with the human wrecking ball that is Rose even though many have triumphed in the role including Ethel Merman for whom the piece was written.
I have the Tyne Daly recording which matches Lupone for brass but lacks the visceral quality of a Patti performance. I also have the Bernadette Peters Gypsy whose Mama Rose is deluded and sweetly manipulative rather than a barn-storming monster in a cloche hat. But she’s got a show voice that is amongst the best in the business hence replacing Bette Midler in Hello Dolly! next year.
Miss M had a very good go at recreating the old Ros Russell film musical as a television special. I think she smashed Rose’s Turn but one did get the feeling it was Bette Midler performing the song not Mama Rose. The Rosalind Russell film looked absolutely stunning in Technicolor but it is a turkey. Merman was robbed although Nathalie Wood gives a definitive performance as Rose Louise who transforms into Gypsy Rose Lee.
Purists will say Gypsy is the most complete Broadway musical with the best overture ever written. Gypsy was one of Sondheim’s first jobs as a principal lyricist. The music was by Jule Styne and the book by Arthur Laurents. Each element of the team brought their A-game to Gypsy and I would say You’ve Got to Get a Gimmick sung by strippers Miss Electra, Miss Mazeppa and Tessie Turah is one of the finest, bawdiest comedy numbers ever staged.
Who else played Gypsy? The last cab off the rank was Imelda Staunton at the Savoy theatre who had the lungs and acting chops but I am afraid she didn’t make the spine tingle like Lupone. I thought Angela Lansbury was far too nationally treasured to play Rose until I remembered her playing the monster mother in The Manchurian Candidate. Nothing is beyond Angela Lansbury’s range.
I have played Mama Rose many an evening. My caterwauling Everything’s Coming Up Roses caused the Chinese lawyers downstairs much consternation. One asked if I was auditioning for a show. I lied and said I was in cabaret at the Crazy Coqs. Look well if she tries to book tickets.
Perhaps the only tribe more enamoured of Gypsy than the divas is the gays. As a card-carrying homosexualist I’d like to nominate Judy Garland as the greatest Mama Rose that never was. I’m not sure she even recorded the anthems perhaps in respect to her friend Ethel. Imagine Judy channelling her own stage mother Ethel Gumm to bring Mama Rose to life. As the all-time greatest belter, Judy’s timbre would have been sensational for Rose’s Turn.
I do think Rose’s Turn appeals to me on a personal level because I’ve reached Rose’s age and, despite moments in the sun, still want the attention and the applause. The number conceals hope with rage (know how she feels!) and is one of those songs that is a musical equivalent of a Hamlet soliloquy. Rose changes gear from bitterness to anger and ultimately on to belief that there’s life in the old girl yet. Again, know how she feels.
The launch of Jewellery for Gentlemen is in many ways my change of gear. Though I have worked for myself for the best part of thirty years, actually focusing on a self-invented project takes major discipline. In the recent past publishers or newspaper deadlines came with their own sense of responsibility. Now the person I am responsible to is me and the project is J4G. I think the website is looking sharp. Have a butchers at www.jewelleryforgentlemen.com and let me know what you think.
This is definitely the opening of my Act 2 in many ways. There is so much to reassess not least in matters of amour. It has taken me forty-six years to work out that some people are much better suited to being a mistress than a wife. This realisation frees-up an awful lot of guilt about not joining in the gay Haj that is the rush to the altar. I wouldn’t mind being taken up the aisle (no comments please) but have had so much more happiness as something of a tart with a heart of gold than I ever did cohabiting.