BetteBack December 1, 1993: Bette Midler soars as Mama Rose

New Bern Sun Journal
On the Cover
By John Crook
December 1, 1993

Bctte M i d l er has t he role she was born to play as t he s t a ge m o t h er f r om h e l l, in “G y p s y ,” w h i ch p r e m i e r es Sunday, De c. 12, on C B S.

An g e la Lansbury w on a T o ny f or h er p e r f o r m a n ce in a r eviva l. Di t to, T y ne Da ly. Inexpl i c ably, the r o l e ‘s c r e a tor, Ethel M e r m a n, d i d n ‘ t. C o u nt on Mi d l er as a Best Bctte in
the E m my r a ce n e xt ye a r.

T h e a t er c o n n o i s s e u rs g e n e r a l ly c o n s i d er ” G y p s y” to be the u l t i m a te ”
b o ok m u s i c a l” ( as t he t e rm imp l i e s, a musical that tells a g e n u i ne story, as o p p o s ed to the spe ctacle o f, s a y, ” C a t s . “) Pl aywr ight Ar thur L a u r e n ts o b v ious ly k n ew w h at he w as o n to wh en he subt i t l ed h is s c r ipt “a musical f a b l e .”

Op e n i ng in Seattle d u r i ng the e a r ly ‘ 2 0 s, ” G y p s y” tells the f a c t -ba s ed story of
stripper Gy p sy R o se L ee (Cynthia G i b b ), h er m o t h e r, R o s e ( M i d l e r) a nd s i s t e r,
J u ne ( J e n n i f er B e c k ). L o ng b e f o re the p h r a se ” d y s f u n c t i o n al f ami l y” c a me into vogue, ” G y p s y” nailed the conc ept -and with m u s i c, yet.

Au d i c n c es w ho d o n ‘t k n ow t he show may be startled by h ow d a rk it is. R o se d r i v es h er chi ldr en to a chi eve the show biz suc c e ss she never g a m e r «! herself, m o w i ng d o wn e v e r y o ne in h er p a th – i n c l u d i ng the her agent, He rbie (Peter Riegert), who loves her.

And anyone who k n ows ” E v e r y t h i n g ‘s C o m i ng Up R o s e s” only from elevator Mu z ak is in f or a shock: In cont ext, especially as pe r formed by Midl e r, this is a very scary song.

” I ‘ ve a l w a ys wa n t ed to play t h at c h a r a c t e r ,” Midl er says. ” I ‘d never really thought about whe re I would play it. I would have played it in stock, if I had the chanc e. I t ‘s a gr e at pa r t. T he s core is ext r aordina ry. T he writing is just incompa r abl e .”

Not only is it incomparable – i t ‘s int a c t. Not wa n t i ng to a rgue wi th success, C B S, t h a n k f u lly, f i lmed the play using the original script. Even J e r ome R o b b i n s’ original choreography is r e c r e a ted.

” A nd w h a t ‘s ni ce about o ur s h ow is that a good deal of it is l i v e ,” Midl er says. ” I t ‘s l ive singing. T h at was a real s t ep f o rwa rd for us. We w e re nervous a b o ut it, but we j u st took the bull and we r an with it. And t h a t ‘s something t h a t ‘s ha rdly ever d o ne a n ymo r e. And we we re very anxious to do it, be c aus e, first of all, nobody d o es it. And i t ‘s a big c h a l l e n g e. And we f e lt we rose to the oc c a s ion. I h o pe e v e r y b o dy f e e ls that w a y, b ut if they d o n ‘ t…t h e r e’s
a lwa ys the r e m o t e !”

T he s h o w ‘s mo st s h a t t e r i ng mome nt c o m es d u r i ng ” R o s e ‘s T u r n ,” the musical the a t er equivalent of an operatic mad s c e n e, in which R o se v e n ts her de c ade s -old rage at having to e n j oy only v i c a r i o us success. Mi d l er s a ys she found the n u m b er daunt ing, to s ay the least.

“That w as the real c h a l l e n g e ,” she says. ” I t ‘s full of emot ion. I t ‘s full of – all t h o se HIGH Bs! ‘ R o s e ‘s T u r n’ was hard be c ause i t ‘s very int r i c a t e. It has k ey changes and t empo
c h a n g e s. A lot of it is d o ne ‘ad lib r u b a t o .’ I t ‘s a t e r r i fying pi e ce of mus ic
be c a u sc i t ‘s one of the two most f a m o us a r i as in the m u s i c al comedy l e x i c o n, the
other one be ing the soliloquy f r om ‘ C a r o u s e l . ‘”

” G y p s y” h as whetted M i d l e r ‘s appetite for o t h er musical c o m e dy v e h i c l es and s he g l e e f u l ly s o l i c i ts int e r e st from potential producers.

” I ‘d like to do ‘ M a m e .’ I ‘d like to do ‘An n ie Get Your G u n , “‘ she s ays. ” I ‘d like to do all those kind of ‘ b r o a d’ parts, you k n o w ?”

A l t h o u gh M i d l er p l a ys a d r i v en s t a ge m o t h er in ” G y p s y ,” s he s a ys s he
w o u ld h a te f or h er d a u g h t e r, Sophie, to go into show bus ine s s. “I think i t ‘s a ve ry hard
l i f e ,” she s ays. “Especially if y o u ‘ re not in t he big, big, big, big, b i g, b i g, big, big, b i g,
b i g, big, big t i m e. You k n o w, if y ou j u st me a n d er a l o n g, i t ‘s h a r d. I t ‘s r e a l l y,
really h a r d. And I d o n ‘t w a nt h er to have to s u f f er those things .”

But if S o p h ie insisted?

“I’d have to try to whip her. Soundly.”

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