Last night, we saw Gypsy at the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre. It’s the last musical that Stephan Sondheim only wrote the lyrics. It was good production with an incredible performance by Louise Pitre as Rose, the mother. However, the production was not sublime. With respect to Sondheim, I much prefer brilliant Into the Woods or the flawed Sunday in the Park with George. I should confess that I’m really not a musical theatre person; there are a few exceptions, notably the movie Singing in the Rain and the recent Broadway production of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying with John Larroquette and Daniel Radcliffe But I think these musicals transcended their genre; maybe it’s the casting and director. Spoilers ahead.
Gypsy is an interesting story, chronicling the rise of Gypsy Rose Lee and the machinations of her mother Rose to make her daughters a success. It’s a look at how hard it is to succeed in show business. It reveals the desperation and ambition that it takes to “make it.” It’s painful at times as you watch Rose come up with scheme after scheme to make her daughters famous at the cost of everything. But you have to admire Rose a little bit even though she’s completely lacking in ethics or sense of proportion. I just read this wonderful phrase, “To me, luck was something you either earned or invented through strength of character. You had come by it honestly; you could not trick or bluff your way into it” (The Sisters Brothers 116). I think really Rose exemplifies this; she invents luck.
However, Karen Abbott’s American Rose, a biography of Gypsy Rose Lee and the Minsky family, impacted my appreciation of the musical. I read it because my family is distantly related to the Minskys, which is really neat. The book alternates between Gypsy’s life and that of the Minskys and their theatres. What was shocking about the book is how awful Rose, Gypsy and her sister were to each other. According to the book, Rose, the mother, actually killed at least two people with her temper. She pushed hotel manager out the window and later bludgeoned her lover. So yeah. And there was the time when June asked Gypsy for a job and Gypsy sent her to a sex party. In comparison, the book makes the Minskys look like well-adjusted people. So it was hard to watch Rose’s character without this back-story in mind. Of course, she’s much less awful in the musical than in real life but that’s saying something. I will admit that I did get a kick to see a poster with the Minsky name on it.
There are some amazing numbers though. I love “You Gotta Have a Gimmick;” it’s a lively upbeat song sung by the dancers about how to make yourself different in showbiz. While they talk about burlesque, the song could apply to any artistic field. It was also neat to see the origin of Simpson joke “Everything’s Coming up Milhouse” in the song “Everything’s Coming up Roses.” It’s a masterful song and Louise Pitre really hits it.
It’s a good show and Louise Pitre gives an incredible performance as Rose. So if you enjoy musicals, I’d recommend going.