BetteBack December 12, 1993: “I never thought I would get old enough to play it….But I did.”

Hutchinson News
The divine Miss M plays the lead role in ‘Gypsy
December 12, 1993

HOLLYWOOD – Bette Midler passionately recalls the first time she heard the score of “Gypsy” 30 ye a rs ago.

“I remember 1 heard the over­t u r e ,” she says warmly. “I never got over it. It was the most excit­ing overture I have ever heard. I would imagine the curtain going up and hearing these wonderful songs.

“I saw Angela Lansbury and I liked her. I thought Tyne Daly did a fabulous job. But I had my own ideas. My memory, my ideal­ization of it was so extraordinary. I never thought I would get old enough to play it.”

Midler, 48, pauses and smiles.

“But I did.”

And does she. The Divine Miss M makes the formidable Mama Rose her own in CBS’ lavish three-hour edition of the musical in its Sunday premiere. The pro­duction also features Cynthia Gibb in the title role, in addition to Peter Riegert, Ed Asner and Michael Jeter.

“Gypsy” is one of Broadway’s most beloved musicals. Loosely based on stripper Gypsy Rose Lee‘s 1957 memoirs, the musical premiered on Broadway in 1959, with a book by Arthur Laurents.

The memorable score, with music by Jule Styne and lyrics by Step­hen Sondheim, includes such standards as “Everything’s Coming Up Roses”, “Small World”, and “Rose’s Turn”.

The late Ethel Merman starred as Rose, the ambitious stage mother of child performers Louise Hovick, who later became known as Gypsy Rose Lee, and Baby June, who enjoyed a successful Broadway and movie career as June Havoc.

Though the Broadway produc­tion was a huge success, the 1962 film version with Rosalind Russell as Rose and Natalie Wood as Gypsy, proved to be a major ar­t i s t ic and
c o m m e r c i al  dis­appointment. But two Broadway revivals in 1974 and 1989 starring Lansbury and Daly, respectively, as Rose were enormous hits.

Midler on a one-to-one basis is a presence far different from her larger-than-life stage persona. Petite and trim, she’s serious, thoughtful and speaks softly and with affection as she recalls the intense experience of making “Gypsy.”

“The music is wonderfully con­structed and the book is wonder­fully constructed because these echoes of what really set people on the path of their life is con­stant,” she says. “They never stop echoing throughout the piece.”

Had “Gypsy” been a theatrical film, it probably would have had a six-month shooting schedule. This being television, the schedule was whittled down to a grueling eight weeks. But the cast did get seven weeks to rehearse.

“We insisted on it,” Midler says. “We insisted on it because it is really a Broad­way show. We were doing a play; we were not doing- a movie.”

Indeed, t h is production of “Gypsy” utilized L a u r e n t s’ origi­nal book.

“When I first looked at it, I said, ‘Gee. Are you going to make any adjustments in t h is to make it more cinematic?’ ”

The producers told her the only way they were able to obtain the r ights was to agr ee that the book would not be a l t e r ed.

“So wc had to do major memo­rization,” Midler recalls, “and major blocking r ehe a r s a l s. Once we s t a r t e d, we knew where we we re going. Once we got on t he s e t, we knew what all of our moves we r e. We didn’t have to stand th e re in the morning and block it as people usually do. So we saved a lot of time t h at way.”

Midler, who didn’t think the 1982 film was “that bad/’, found L a u r e n t s’ book amazingly strong.

“Once you fall into the rhythm of it, it practically sings itself,” she says. “All the big speeches a re rhythmic. You can hear the music in them and the characters a re right
t h e r e. Right on the page. If you sing it in the way it is meant to be sung – and I don’t
mean songs, I mean the words. If you speak the way it is supposed to be spoken, you don’t have to hardly do anything at all.”

The cast, she says, really got into it.

“There were a lot of t e a r s ,” Midler says. “People just cried because they never get a  chance to do (a musical). They came back from seeing ‘Eve rything’s Coming Up Roses’ and people went up to Emile and said, ‘I can’t thank you enough for l e t t ing me have this
experience, because it was so magical that we could get to do this material and hear these songs and see this on film again.’ It was blessed.”

Gibb acknowledges that it was a “big deal” to do such a great musical and to work with the leg­endary Midler.

“It’s hard to say in a word what i t ‘s like,” says Gibb. “She’s so talented and so powerful. She’s a very, very s t r o ng woman. She’s very sharp. She’s really the most powerful person I have ever worked off of. She gave me so much to work with.”

As part of her r e s e a r ch, Midler read-books on the vaudeville era depicted in “Gypsy.”

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