On the Twentieth Century cover art

"And any IOU I owe, you owe."

Book by Arthur Laurents
Music by Jule Styne
Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins
Opened 5/21/59 at the Broadway Theatre in New York. 702 performances.

Main Players/Characters

Ethel Merman


Sandra Church


Jack Klugman


Lane Bradbury


Jacqueline Mayro

Baby June

Karen Moore

Baby Louise

Paul Wallace


Faith Dane


Chotzi Foley


Maria Karnilova



Stephen Sondheim


Bobby Brownell, Gene Castle, Steve Curry, Billy Harris


Marvin Arnold, Ricky Coll, Don Emmons, Michael Parks, Ian Tucker, Paul Wallace, David Winters

Plot Summary

This musical was "suggested" by the memoirs of famed stripper Gypsy Rose Lee.

Oft-married Rose is the archetypical stage mother, pushing her daughters June and Louise into vaudeville. After Rose's father refuses money to realize Rose's dream of glory for June, Rose steals his gold plaque to sell and embarks on a long tour with her two daughters and several boys they pick up for the act, as well as a manager, Herbie, who is in love with Rose. Pushy and domineering, Rose is nevertheless hard to refuse. Herbie, who would like nothing better than to settle down with Rose, puts up with her promises that she'll settle down eventually.

Years pass, but the act remains substantially the same. Rose can't stand the thought of losing June, and so refuses to let her go solo when a producer offers to train her to be a star. June eventually rebels and runs off with one of the boys, and the rest of the boys abandon the act. Rose thus turns her attention to mousy Louise, who hates performing but bows to her mother's wishes. Rose assembles a troupe of girls to recreate the old act with Louise in the June role. Then Herbie accidentally books the act into a burlesque house--they're to be the theatre's "clean" act amongst the strippers and lewd comedians. Rose's disgust is overcome by Louise's hard-headed insistance that they badly need money, and they stay. When one of the strippers is arrested, Rose pushes Louise into the stripper's act, which causes Herbie to leave once and for all. However, Louise (now named Gypsy Rose Lee) is a hit and eventually becomes the world's most famous stripper. With her increase in stature comes an increase in self-confidence, and she rejects her mother's overtures. Rose, utterly alone, pours her misery out on stage. She and Gypsy reconcile afterwards.


  1. Overture
  2. Let Me Entertain You
  3. Some People
  4. Small World
  5. Baby June and Her Newsboys
  6. Mr. Goldstone, I Love You
  7. Little Lamb
  8. You'll Never Get Away from Me
  9. Dainty June and Her Farmboys
  10. If Momma Was Married
  11. All I Need is the Girl
  12. Everything's Coming Up Roses
  13. Together Wherever We Go
  14. You Gotta Get a Gimmick
  15. Let Me Entertain You
  16. Rose's Turn
    Bonus Tracks:
  17. Some People
  18. Mr. Goldstone/Little Lamb
  19. Momma's Talkin' Soft
  20. Nice She Ain't

Tony Awards

Gypsy won no Tonys (isn't that pathetic?). It was nominated for:

  • Best Musical
  • Best Director
  • Best Actress (Musical)
  • Best Actor, Supporting or Featured (Musical) (Jack Klugman)
  • Best Actress, Supporting or Featured (Musical) (Sandra Church)
  • Best Conductor and Musical Director (Milton Rosenstick)
  • Best Scenic Designer (Musical) (Jo Mielziner)
  • Best Costume Designer (Raoul Penè Du Bois)

Other Awards

  • According to the booklet, "the composers and lyricists of ASCAP voted this score as the best ever written for a Broadway musical." Dunno when....
  • It did win a Grammy for Best Broadway Show Album.


Considered by many to be the perfect musical, with its combination of terrific songs, wonderful book, and legendary performances, Gypsy is both a great musical and a major part of American popular culture. Momma Rose is the poster child for pushy stage mothers; I don't think I've ever seen a description of a stage mother that didn't mention Rose. "Everything's Coming up Roses" must make Sondheim and the Styne estate a ton of money during Pasadena's Rose Bowl Parade; you can always count on hearing at least one rendition of the song during the parade. "Let Me Entertain You" is so indelibly wedded to sexy/stripper stage performances that it's become a cliche. (Hell, it even showed up in an episode of Gilligan's Island.) "Together Wherever We Go" is a favorite buddy song in amateur theatrics; I remember hearing it on an episode of The Brady Bunch. (Have I dated myself yet?) And the Overture is one of the classics of the genre. It just blows me away that the score and book weren't even nominated for Tonys.

The sad thing is that these songs are so well known that a lot of people don't really listen to them any more, which is a shame. This is Jule Styne's best and most ambitious score, and he freely acknowledged that Sondheim's influence spurred him to new heights. (Sondheim was supposed to do the music as well as the lyrics, but Merman didn't want to work with an untried composer; his only Broadway music to that point had been the unproduced Saturday Night. However, "Rose's Turn" is entirely his, though uncredited.) The music is perfectly tailored to Merman; even Irving Berlin didn't serve her so well. And she may have thought Sondheim overrated, but his work here is considered his best example of "ordinary" theatrical lyrics.

Those of you unfamiliar with the musical's history might be wondering right now why this story is called Gypsy when the central figure is Rose. The answer is that Gypsy Rose Lee's only requirement concerning the musicalization of her memoirs was that the show be called "Gypsy"; otherwise she gave the creative team a free hand to do what they liked. As a result, the show bears little resemblance to its source material (which in turn bore little resemblance to the truth). Also, the term "gypsy" suggests both the theatrical gypsy and the wandering sort of gypsy, which is appropriate for Rose.

I saw a revival of this show back in the 70s, but all I remember from it was being hit on the leg by a plastic apple that the woman playing Gypsy threw into the audience. More recently I saw the Bette Midler version on DVD, which is supposed to follow the original staging pretty closely. The thing that impressed me most was the circumstances surrounding the singing of "Everything's Coming Up Roses." Out of context, this is a powerful anthem of optimism. In context, it's a stunner, because it's an expression of obsession to the point of madness: Herbie and Louise clutch each other and look at Rose in horror, clearly thinking, "She's gone off the deep end," as she blindly and bravely sings of her belief that they'll succeed as performers, completely ignoring the preferences of her two companions--who are, of course, so overwhelmed by her that they can't defy her. What a way to end the first act!

  • The legendary Ethel Merman is at her peak on this CD. The character was so perfect for her that her Rose is considered one of the all-time classic Broadway performances. Lansbury, Daly, Midler, et al have their points, but Merman was Rose. Of course, she wasn't much of an actress, and while we're spared her book scenes, you can hear some of it in her songs; she was notorious for "freezing" a performance and repeating it over and over, and her by-the-numbers performance is full of energy but lacking in conviction in some songs. (Note that her performance in the bonus track of "Some People" sounds substantially like the performance she would give on the recorded version.) Also, like Carol Channing, Merman is an acquired taste. Her fire-alarm voice can drive non-aficionados right up a wall, which makes this CD terrific for pissing off the neighbors. But for all its faults, this performance is part of Broadway history. I defy you not to be thrilled when she sings "You'll... be... swell!" That "You'll" is by itself one of the great moments in musicals, and no one has done it better.
  • Sandra Church is an effective Louise/Gypsy, though the poor thing gets overshadowed by Merman on "Together Wherever We Go." But in her other numbers, she successfully conveys both her lesser-sister status (in "Little Lamb") and her newfound confidence and maturity (in her rendition of "Let Me Entertain You"). In fact, she almost sounds like a different person in "Let Me Entertain You," which is quite impressive.
  • Jack Klugman, though a major presence in the book scenes, had few singing chores because he could do little more than croak. His two significant songs are "You'll Never Get Away from Me," a duet with Merman (and if you thought Church was overpowered by Merman, well...), and "Together Wherever We Go" " The booklet credits him with a role in "Small World," but only Merman is audible on that one.
  • It's hard to make any statements about Lane Bradbury because she had to sing in a corny, high-pitched, little-girl voice during both her "Dainty June" number and the more normal "If Momma Was Married" duet with Church. Their voices do blend well, though.
  • Paul Wallace has the least necessary song in the show, "All I Need Is the Girl," which appears to have been thrown in as an excuse to let him and Church do some dancing. He's more a dancer than a singer; he acts the song with enthusiasm, but he's only slightly less of a croaker than Klugman. The scene itself, where Louise mimics his movements in a visual expression of her desire to be "the Girl," is an interesting bit of staging unfortunately not accessible to listeners.
  • Faith Dane, Chotzi Foley, and a pre-Fiddler Maria Karnilova (I still have trouble picturing Golde bumping and grinding) are appropriately hoarse- or harpy-voiced as the hard-bitten strippers in one of the most purely entertaining numbers ever staged. I know the Bette Midler Gypsy didn't do this, and I don't think the original version did this, but the real-life inspiration for Mazeppa (the one with the horn) used to end her act by sticking her horn up her ass and blowing. (This I got from Arthur Laurents' autobiography.)
  • Stephen Sondheim has one non-singing line on the CD that he snarls: "You ain't getting 88 cents from me, Rose." He was pissed at Merman for refusing to say the line "And you can go to hell!" when Rose's father turns down her request for money.

The remastered version of this CD is better than the original version (which is universally true for remastered shows). Aside from improving some of the regular songs, the CD also includes practice versions of "Some People" and "Mr. Goldstone/Little Lamb" (both sung by Merman) and two cut songs: "Momma's Talkin' Soft" (sung by Laura Leslie, a demo singer who's pretty good), a duet for June and Louise that was cut because it was staged on a high platform that frightened the singers, and "Nice She Ain't" (sung by Bernie Knee, a demo singer who's pretty offkey--he sounds like he has a cold), a song for Klugman that was cut because he couldn't sing. There are remnants of "Momma's Talkin' Soft" in "Rose's Turn" where it launches into "Momma's talkin' loud...."

CD Packaging

The booklet does a nice job detailing the history of the musical (written by Martin Gottfried, one of Stephen Sondheim's major biographers), with substantial passages about the involvement of Sondheim (including his notorious description of Merman as "the singing dog"). There are also a lengthy plot summary reprinted from the LP; a reminiscence by Thomas Z. Shepard, the reissue producer, that includes valuable information about the remastering done on some of the songs; a cast list; a song list with singers; and a disappointingly small number of small pictures from the stage production (and one large one of Church in mid-strip on the back of the booklet). There's also a large picture of Merman and Goddard Lieberson, the original recording's producer, behind the CD. No libretto.


No Broadway collection or education is complete without the OBC of Gypsy. If you haven't listened to it for a while or don't own the remastered version, dust it off or go buy it and immerse yourself in it. It's so vastly superior to the majority of musicals... it practically defines musicals.

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