Musical theatre workshops and productions

What are “Showstoppers?”

I am reading the wonderful book Showstoppers!: The Surprising Backstage Stories of Broadway’s Most Memorable Songs by Gerald Nachman.  It seems every few pages I am finding myself saying, “Hmmm, I never knew that!”  So, I thought I would share with you some of his information.

First – GYPSY.  This musical is a gangbuster musical that has a dark side.  It is about “Mama Rose” and her “dream” to have her children make it big in show biz.  It requires a powerhouse of an actress/singer to lead the charge and it was written for Ethel Merman. I have seen GYPSY with Tyne Daly, Bernadette Peters, Patti LuPone, Alexandra Billings and a few others.  All very different interpretations, all extremely well done.  Many songs in the score are now considered standards. The music is exciting (what an overture!) and the lyrics (written by Sondheim) are some of his best.  Here are some fun things I learned from the book:

  • Rose is never referred to as “Mama Rose” in the musical. But that is what theatrefolk have called the character from the beginning.
  • The show is based on the story of the stripper Gypsy Rose Lee and her mother Rose. While the character in the musical is loud, fearsome and swaggering, the actual Rose was recalled by Gypsy in her memoir as charming. (Although she did try and shoot the boy who stole Dainty June, and shot and killed a woman in upstate New York.  She also ran a lesbian boardinghouse and was charged with pushing a woman out window!)
  • The show was finished in an eye-popping four months. (Many shows take years to write.)
  • The title phrase in the song “Everything’s Coming up Roses” was Sondheim’s creation and it was also a triple pun. Referring to roses (the flower) Mama Rose and Gypsy Rose Lee.
  • The actress, Faith Dane, who originated the stripper trumpet playing role of Miss Mazeppa played the trumpet at her audition before the song “Ya Gotta Get a Gimmick” was even written and later declared that the number was hers after she was not chosen to play the role in the tour. (She also ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Washington nine times.)
  • The final number “Rose’s Turn” which is considered one of the great numbers in musical theatre was created by Jerome Robbins and Sondheim late one night at the theatre. (Originally the show was supposed to end with a nightmare ballet, but Robbins did not have time to create it.) Supposedly, Robbins said something like, “Let’s try ad-libbing something” and poof….the montage was created using Sondheim’s amazing lyrics and Styne’s stunning music.

That is for now……More later…..

Larry Little

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