GYPSY DECONSTRUCTED

FROM THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

GYPSY has been one of my favourite musicals since childhood. I’ve never seen a stage production. But I do own the 1962 film version.

I always related strongly to LOUISE, NATALIE WOOD’S character.

(I grew up adoring her. She was incredibly beautiful in that. I think it was the best performance she ever gave.)

Louise’s mother ROSE (played by the formidably awesome ROSALIND RUSSELL), is determined to make her sister June a Broadway star. Or die trying. But when June elopes with her boyfriend, Rose puts her unstoppable will and drive behind Louise.

Louise has spent her entire life in her sister’s shadow. It would never occur to her that she had any actual talent.

With vaudeville going straight to hell and disappearing fast, all that’s left are the burlesque houses. Rose has some serious misgivings. But it’s still theatre…and Louise is 16.

There is a moment that deeply resonates for me. Louise is about to go on stage for the very first time. She is wearing a flattering blue satin gown. She catches her reflection in a full length mirror and she realizes that she has never seen herself like this before.

“I’m a girl,” she whispers to herself unbelievingly. “I’m a pretty girl.”

It’s extremely moving. But it’s also tremendously powerful.

Girls have to own their sexuality. Understand it. Be aware of it. Revel in it. Once they do, no guy will ever be able to take advantage of them.

They won’t have a prayer.

This is just the beginning for Louise. She works hard, learns fast and becomes a famous stripper. This is back when stripping was a real art, with enormous class and style. It was actually empowering.

It’s a whole different ball of wax today.

Later on, Rose calls Louise out on something. By this time, Louise is well on her way to being a wealthy young woman. She’s definitely the toast of the town. She’s quick to remind her mama that she calls the shots now and the world is at her feet.

“I AM GYPSY ROSE LEE.”

So Louise takes on the destiny that June could never fulfill…and that Rose could only dream of.

Some things are meant to be…

The musical GYPSY is packed with moments of brilliant delight and crushing disappointment as the fiercely determined MAMA ROSE travels the vaudeville circuit in search of stardom for her daughters.

The show, which debuted almost 50 years ago, is regarded as one of the best Broadway has ever offered. The latest revival stars powerhouse PATTI LuPONE as ROSE, a woman who owns the stage whenever she appears.

But it’s a simple dance number smack in the middle of the show that’s among the most pivotal to the story. The spotlight is not on Rose but on a chorus boy and a shy young girl named LOUISE, one of ROSE’S daughters.

ALL I NEED IS THE GIRL starts the heartbreaking chain of events that eventually transforms Louise into burlesque queen GYPSY ROSE LEE. It also comes right before PATTI LuPONE’S mesmerizing performance of EVERYTHING’S COMING UP ROSES.

The number is a duet between TULSA, one of the chorus boys who wants his own act and LOUISE, who is developing a wicked crush on him.

Veteran choreographer BONNIE WALKER, who restaged the show from the original JEROME ROBBINS steps, says it’s impossible to compare the actors who played Tulsa over the years.

“They’re all different and they each have their own individual stamps. It’s like comparing apples and oranges. They’ve all had their particular strengths.”

For the performers, ALL I NEED IS THE GIRL is important because it shows the audience the musical is more than just a tale of MAMA ROSE and a dysfunctional family.

It’s about a dream.

Then again, that’s the point of the entire play.

BONNIE WALKER said the song resonates because of the subject matter.

“Tulsa dreams of having an act and being successful in show business. Louise dreams of a relationship with Tulsa – and neither one is going to realize their dreams. This is why the number can be so poignant.”

There’s an awful lot of silence in the number as well, an effective tool as Louise – and the audience – begin to think that maybe she and Tulsa will be able to live out their ambitions. Of course, everything doesn’t necessarily come up roses.

LAURA BENANTI, who won a TONY for her portrayal of LOUISE, said the song is like a silent movie right in the middle of the play – and it’s extraordinarily heartfelt.

“She’s so overwhelmed by his talent. Until then, she’s only seen Mama Rose’s choreography. It’s so moving to her.”

The original JEROME ROBBINS choreography is lyrical, timeless and carefully thought out.

“He learned on his own,” said BONNIE WALKER. “He taught himself practising in the alley. The acts he watched on stage – he learned from that. He even stole from Mama Rose. He saw Fred Astaire at one point and that’s Fred Astaire’s step. He’s not just doing a dance number. It’s choreographed with everything in mind.”

The challenge to the number isn’t necessarily the specific steps. But rather to act it out and bind it with emotion.

“If it becomes just about steps, it is not a great number. Mr. Robbins was never about just steps,” remarked Ms. Walker. “For him, steps had to have a purpose and a story and that is the genius of Jerome Robbins.”

GYPSY has been a regular visitor to Broadway since it first opened there in 1959. ETHEL MERMAN was the original MAMA ROSE. It’s been revived three times. The most recent version started at CITY CENTER in the summer of 2007.

It had a 1962 movie version with the glamourous NATALIE WOOD and the unforgettable ROSALIND RUSSELL. There was a television production starring BETTE MIDLER.

ALL I NEED IS THE GIRL has also been performed live in concert by FRANK SINATRA.

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