BetteBack December 11, 1993: Midler stars in CBS version of ‘Gypsy’

Burlington Hawk Eye
December 11, 1993


It’s a solid recipe for holiday-season entertainment: a top entertainer in. a classic musical, and on television, no less.

Originally staged in New York. in 1959 with Ethel Merman as its star, then remounted on Broadway in the early 19708 (with Angela Lansbury) and in 1989 (with Tyne Daly), “Gypsy” – with its book by Arthur Laurents, music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and original choreography by Jerome Robbins – also fueled a 1962 screen version with Rosalind Russell. It gets a new film treatment in a three-hour presentation Sunday on CBS, with Bette Midler making her TV-movie debut as Rose Hovick, the ultimate “stage mother” who p po pel led her daughters Louise (played by Cynthia ^Gibb) and June (Jen -‘nifer Beck) into show-business careers … with Louise eventually striking out on her own as stripper Gypsy Rose Lee, on whose memoirs the so-qalled “musical fable” is based.

Directed by the late Emile Ardolino. (“Sister Act,C“Dirty Dancing”), the production also features Peter Riegel! (“Middle Ages,” “Crossing Delancey”) as the girls’ agent and Rose’s love interest, and Edward Asner as Rose’s disapproving father; additional cast members include Michael Jeter (“Evening Shade”), Christine Ebersole (”˜The Cavanaughs”) and Linda Hart. Among the score’s memorable songs are “Everything’s Coming Up Roses”
(which became a Merman standard after its debut), “Let Me Entertain You,” “Small World,” “All I Need Is the Girl” and ”˜Together, Wherever We Go.”

“I’ve always wanted to play that character,” says the ever-lively Midler of her “Gypsy” role, which she filmed just before launching her latest concert tour, “but I’d never really thought about where I would play it. I would have played it in stock, if I’d had the chance. It’s just a
great part. The score is extraordinary, and the writing is just incomparable. This was treated like a feature film, with the full complement of actors and studio musicians.
We rehearsed for seven weeks before we even set foot on a sound stage, and we did it quickly, but that’s because everybody knew what they were doing, thanks to Emile

With tongue firmly in cheek, Midler reasons Nothing was skimped on, except my salary.”
Her own background in entertainment makes Midler sympathetic to the plights of all the
major figures rn “Gypsy,” since she says from experience, “It’s a very hard life, especially if
you’re not in the big, big, big time. *You’re tot! tall, you’re too short, you’re too thin, you’re too fat, you don’t sing high enough, you don’t sing low enough.’ It wears away at your soul after a while.” That’s why she claims she would advise her young daughter Sophie to steer clear of entering the same field, though Midler reports, “She does like show business. She came on the < “Gypsy’) set and had a wonderful time. She just loved the strippers, and she’s been on other productions with me, but this was the first one where she knew every single song.”
Acknowledging that television isn’t the flourishing venue for musical projects that it used to be, Midler reflects, “It wasn’t really until popular music itself took a turn toward rock-and-roll that musical-variety (on TV) really bit the dust, but I’ve always felt it was a viable formula.
Fred Astaire, Judy Garland and Frank Sinatra all had their own shows. They actually stood there and sang for a half hour, and people tuned in to watch them.” In addition to a Tony Award, four Grammys and three Golden Globes, Midler owns two Emmys; one was given
for her late-1970s special “OI’ Red Hair Is Back,” and the other for her farewell salute to
Johnny Carson on his next-tolast “Tonight Show” last year.
With “Gypsy,” she is particularly excited by the fact “that its live singing (recorded at the actual tim e of filming, and not redubbed later in postproduction).
That was a real step forward, something that’s hardly ever done anymore, and we felt we rose to the occasion.”
Co-executive producer Craig Zadan (“Footloose”) maintains that Sunday’s film is “the classic ”˜Gypsy.’ We basically made no changes in the script of tile play, and I think it’s the first time anyone ever has shot that (original form of a stage work) as a movie.” Longtime Midler associate Bonnie Bruckheimer also has produced such screen vehicles for the performer as “For the Boys, “Beaches” and the recent “Hocus Pocus,” and she says she met with original “Gypsy” writer Laurents in helping to prepare the television edition:
“When I read a script, I am always looking for what the writer’s intention is. In this case, I spent many long hours at Arthur s house and at dinners, getting his point of view about
the material. It was extraordinarily helpful.

In the concert appearances she made during the latter hall of 1993, Midler integrated songs from “Gypsy” into her act, but she insists that wasn’t only to promote the movie. “I enjoy singing them,” she asserts, “and it’s something I’ve avoided doing throughout my career, singing show tunes, hut I really like them. With most people who are interested in popular music or rhythm-and-blues, they don’t want anyone to know th at they’re closet show-tune listeners.”
Midler may give them more reasons to declare them selves, though, since she now has designs on some other renowned musicals she might tackle.
“I’d like to do ”˜Marne,’ ”˜Annie Get Your Gun,’ all those kinds of broad parts,” she muses. “Th scores are so wonderful, and I want my daughter to know all of that historically. I  don’t want her to hear just what’s on the radio, because I trust my taste more than I trust a (station program director’s taste. I play these things for her, and she just loves them. I feel bad that the whole nation doesn’t get t0 celebrate this tradition more often, because it is valuable an well-crafted and something we should be proud of … yet we seem to throw aside the magic things we’ve made, or tear them down and trample them Maybe it’s because we’re constantly reinventing ourselves, but personally I think it’s a real waste.”

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