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Theatre / Gypsy

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Let me entertain you, and we'll have a real good time!

Gypsy: a musical fable is a 1959 Musical with book by Arthur Laurents, music by Jule Styne, and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, loosely based on the life of striptease artist Gypsy Rose Lee. The original production, starring Ethel Merman and Sandra Church, is one of the most acclaimed shows in Broadway history. It was later adapted into a 1962 film starring Rosalind Russell and Natalie Wood and a 1993 Made-for-TV Movie starring Bette Midler and Cynthia Gibb.

Stage Mom Rose Hovick is determined to make her daughters Louise and June stars — June more so than Louise initially — but while June is extroverted and talented, Louise is shy and quiet. Rose's act for the two is based on childish, innocent stage personae that they become unable to keep up as they grow older.

Eventually, June runs away, and Rose decides to put Louise in the spotlight, with an act still similar to the one with June. But there are various problems: Louise is a good singer and dancer but she can't do the kind of routines that June excelled at, Rose's ideas for acts to get Louise in the spotlight are too old fashioned and out of date to work in the changing entertainment landscape, and her relationship with her lover, manager and business partner Herbie are deteriorating due to Rose's ruthless, uncompromising ambition. On top of all that Vaudeville has died out save for the Burlesque theaters, and the only reason the show was even taken on was that it would be a clean act, giving less of an excuse for police raids.

Yet that doesn't last long, and the act is finally broken up. Rose pushes Louise to do one last act for an arrested stripper — causing Herbie to finally leave her for good — but insists that Louise do it clean. "Make 'em beg for more, and then don't give it to them!" Louise, now given the stage name Gypsy Rose Lee, takes that advice to its logical extreme, by always leaving the men wanting more of her. This makes her the most successful in the business, but her mother is disgusted.

Finally realizing she lost everyone, Rose breaks down and realizes that everything she did was for herself and out of her own selfish desire to be noticed. Upon admitting that, Rose and Gypsy start to reconcile.

The film is also notable for inspiring The Faith Dane Clause, to prevent the legal problems that Faith Dane created when she claimed that her acting style "created" the role of Miss Mazeppa. All actors must sign a waiver now relinquishing claims on the characters they play since.

This work provides examples of:

  • Adaptational Attractiveness: The real Gypsy Rose Lee was less of a conventional beauty than her sister June Havoc. It was her style and humor that made her a star in burlesque. Most actresses who play Louise are more classically pretty, especially Natalie Wood in the film version. This also applies to some actresses who play Rose, such as Bernadette Peters, compared to the real Rose Hovick.
  • As Himself: Jack Benny has a cameo as himself in the 1962 film.
  • Badass Boast: When Rose gets uneasy about Louise's newfound confidence and independence as Gypsy Rose Lee and tries to tear her down, Louise busts out one of these that stops Rose cold.
    Rose: You know what you are to them? A circus freak! This year's novelty act! And when the bill is changed...
    Louise: I SAID TURN IT OFF! Nobody laughs at me, because I laugh first. At me. Me from Seattle. Me, with no education. Me, with no talent, as you kept reminding me my whole life! Well, look at me now! A star! Look at how I live. Look at my friends. Look at where I'm going. I'm not staying in burlesque, I'm moving. Maybe up, maybe down, but wherever it is, I'm enjoying it, Mama. I am having the time of my life because for the first time it is my life! And I love it! I love every second of it, and I will be damned if you are going to take it away from me! I am Gypsy Rose Lee. I love her! And if you don't, you can clear out now.
  • Beautiful All Along: In the film, when Louise first gets beautiful clothes and has her hair done, she looks in the mirror, and incredulously says: "I'm pretty. I'm a pretty girl, Mama." Justified, in that Mama Rose had been dressing her in boys' clothes most of her life, so she could be a background dancer in her sister's act.
    • Referenced in, of all things, the stage version of Hairspray, which can be explained by the fact that Hairspray premiered on Broadway in the same season as a revival of Gypsy.
  • Becoming the Mask: Gypsy grows into the role.
  • Borrowed Catchphrase: Gypsy's entire burlesque act is taking Baby June's act and making it seductive. Mama does it in her "Rose's Turn", too.
    Gypsy: Hello, everyone! My name's Gypsy! What's yours?
  • Brick Joke: Mama's "Rose's Turn" is Call Backs to previous lines.
    Rose: How do ya like them eggrolls, Mr. Goldstone?
  • BSoD Song: "Rose's Turn," which Rose sings after her relationship with Louise seems dead for good.
  • Catchphrase: June starts every act with "Hello everybody! My name's June! What's yours?" Later on, Louise uses that line with her stage name, and with a whole new meaning. Rose says it again in "Rose's Turn."
  • Cool Big Sis: Despite it all June does seem to regard Louise as this. Of course, Louise is Natalie Wood in the film version.
  • The Cover Changes the Meaning: "Let Me Entertain You" as sung by June as an innocent little girl, and then as sung by Louise as a stripper.
  • Darker and Edgier: Patti Lupone's Rose is downright frightening.
  • Dark Reprise:
    • "May We Entertain You", the innocent vaudeville song June and Louise sang as children, slowed down and turned into the stripper song "Let Me Entertain You". Not so much "Dark" as Hotter and Sexier. One could consider it a Subverted Trope, as it scares Louise at first but she obviously grows a liking to it as her career goes on.
    • "Rose's Turn" contains reprises of and lyrical callbacks to about half of the songs in the show.
      • Rose can barely get through a tearful reprise of “Small World” when Herbie leaves her.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: There's a reason drag queens found the "I'm a pretty girl, mama" scene resonating to them, as well as MTF's later: a girl being forced to act and dress like a boy by their overbearing parent(s), til they discovered happiness as a different gender.
  • Downer Ending: Most productions have a Bittersweet Ending in which Rose and Gypsy reconcile in someway, but the 1974 and 2008 revivals plays the conversation as more devious on Rose's part, and ends the same dialogue with Gypsy exiting the stage laughing at Rose's futile attempt to con her again, leaving her mother all alone in her madness.
  • The Dutiful Daughter: Louise, after June cuts and runs.
  • End of an Age: The bulk of the show takes place in a time where Vaudeville entertainment was in decline. Even though Herbie explains this to Rose in one scene she refuses to accept it, which is just to be expected of her at this point.
  • Everything's Better with Sparkles: Louise’s striptease dresses in the 1993 movie version are SPARKLY.
  • Family-Friendly Stripper: Gypsy's strip routines never go as far as actual nudity, as Gypsy was usually like in real life. She preferred "tease" more than the "strip".
  • The Gimmick: The first three strippers that Louise meets (Tessi Turra, Mazeppa and Electra) introduce her to their gimmicks, proposing that this is the way to stand out in show business (Look here and see the camp for yourself.) Later, when Louise is more or less pushed into a stripper role, she takes their advice to heart. She's so nervous that the only thing she "strips" in her first performance is a single glove; the audience loves her innocence, and removing the glove (in addition to talking directly to patrons) becomes her gimmick.
  • Henpecked Husband: Poor, poor Herbie is always under Rose's thumb. Arguably made worse by the fact that he and Rose never actually get married.
  • Historical Domain Character: Loosely based on the memoirs of the real striptease artist Gypsy Rose Lee, and includes her mother Rose and sister June Havoc. Tulsa might count, since real-life June ran away and married Bobby Reed from the act, which is what she does with Tulsa.
  • Hollywood Tone-Deaf: The singing in "You Gotta Get A Gimmick" is deliberately harsh and off-key as the strippers openly admit they have "no talent" and are relying on their gimmicks.
  • Hometown Nickname: The boys Rose picks up for June's act are known only by the names of the cities where she "acquired" them.
  • Imagine Spot: "Rose's Turn" has Rose imagine being the star for a change, with her name up in lights.
  • Informed Ability: Subverted in "Ya Gotta Have A Gimmick." The strippers appear to actually have no talent, but the truth is that their talent is finding the right gimmick to appeal to the crowd.
    Miss Mazeppa: It's not enough to have no talent.
  • I Reject Your Reality: Mama Rose talks constantly about how vaudeville isn't going anywhere, and that someday, June, and later Louise, will be stars. As time passes and their act falters and flops, it becomes increasingly obvious to everyone but her that vaudeville is dead (except in burlesque) and will never come back. But Rose won't hear it, insisting that every new popular entertainment is just a fad.
  • Ironic Echo: Baby June starts her act with, "Hello everybody, my name's June, what's yours?" Louise adapts the phrase for her much more mature burlesque act ("Hello everybody, my name's Gypsy, what's yours?") and Rose adapts it during her BSoD Song (""Hello everybody, my name's Rose, what's ''yours''?"") when she dreams about being a star.
  • It Will Never Catch On: Jack Benny was going nowhere, according to Rose.
  • It's All About Me: In the end, Rose admits that she pushed her daughters to become stars because she never got to be one, and couldn't get over her lost opportunities.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Tessie Tura and Mazeppa come off as brash and rude at first, but show themselves to be good friends to Louise and the girls after their first impressions.
  • Large Ham:
  • Light Feminine Dark Feminine: The bubbly and virginal June as the light feminine, the "Queen Of The Striptease" Gypsy as the dark.
  • Ms. Fanservice: The 1962 film showed by Natalie Wood became a star, especially in the elegant blue dress.
  • My Beloved Smother: Rose plays this trope to a T.
  • The Musical: Based on the life of Gypsy Rose Lee.
  • Nice Guy: Herbie really wants the best for the girls, and eventually leaves when it's clear Rose won't change her ways.
  • No Indoor Voice:
    • Miss Mazeppa.
    • Mama Rose as well.
  • Not Allowed to Grow Up: The kids in the act are never older than ten, no matter what anyone says. To drive this point home, every year there are only ten candles on their cakes. In Real Life, Rose actually faked their birth certificates to make them seem three years younger.
  • "Not So Different" Remark: At the end of the 1962 movie, when Rose admits she did it all because she wanted to be noticed, Louise says it's the same as how she always wanted Rose to notice her.
  • One of the Boys: Tulsa, one of the boy dancers Rose picks up, says he and the guys all consider Louise this. She is not flattered.
  • Pimping the Offspring: Downplayed. Mama Rose Hovick, in a last-ditch effort to launch one of her kids to stardom, signs her daughter up to replace the arrested star of the burlesque and do a striptease act. Louise, while already a young woman, is a sexual innocent who has only ever done cutesy vaudeville dances, and as such is not happy being signed up for this, while Herbie, her mother's partner, is so disgusted that he leaves Rose for good. Ironically, this enables Louise to become the world-famous Gypsy Rose Lee, getting out from under her mother's thumb for good.
  • Pretty in Mink:
    • In one of June's acts, she's playing a farm girl going off to Broadway, and to look like a star she's wearing a white rabbit coat, muff, and hat. Yet those furs are in the style for girls a few years younger than June, to fit the "Dainty June" image her mother wants.
    • At the end Gypsy is going to a party wearing a mink coat, and she lets her mother wear after she invites her to come along.
    • In the first film version Gypsy is doing a photoshoot, and she wears a dress with a slit skirt of white fox.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Rose delivers one to Louise, of all people, when the latter cries "Mama, you have GOT to let me go!"
    Mama Rose: "I thought you did it for me, Mama." "I thought you did it for me, Mama!" "I thought you made a no-talent ox into a star because you liked doing things the hard way, Mama!" And you haven't any talent! Not what I call talent! Talent to the deaf, dumb and blind, maybe, but not an ounce of it, "Miss Gypsy Rose Lee"! I MADE YOU! And you wanna know why? You wanna know what I did it for? BECAUSE I WAS BORN TOO SOON, AND STARTED TOO LATE! THAT'S why. With what I got in me, I coulda been better than ANY OF YA! What I got in me...what I've been holding down inside of me...ooh, if I ever let it out—there wouldn't be SIGNS BIG ENOUGH! There wouldn't be LIGHTS BRIGHT ENOUGH!
  • Romantic False Lead: Tulsa is set up as Louise's love interest, even having a nice little moment with her in "All I Need is the Girl." Then, at the end of the first act... he elopes with June and is never mentioned again.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: At the end of the first act, June, Tulsa, and the other boys in the act understandably get sick of Rose's crap and leave. This results in Louise and Herbie being stuck with Rose in all her Stage Mom glory.
  • Secretly Selfish: Mama Rose might be the Trope Codifier in musical theatre. She spends her entire life pushing June and Louise to be stars, all the while claiming that she's doing it for them. But in the end, Rose finally admits that deep down, it was always about herself—she didn't get the chance to be a leading lady, so she tried to mold her daughters to fulfill the dream that she never achieved.
  • She Cleans Up Nicely: Louise just before her first performance as Gypsy.
    "Mama? I'm a pretty girl, Mama."
  • Show Some Leg: Most Rose's wear a dress with a split that allows them to show off a gartered leg during "Rose's Turn".
  • Sidekick Song: "You Gotta Get a Gimmick" for the strippers, and "All I Need is the Girl" for Tulsa.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: In Real Life, not only did Rose cry out "Rape!" when the hotel manager was angry she was hoarding 12 people in the room, she threw him out the window to his death.
  • Spotlight-Stealing Squad: Rosalind Russell as Rose manages a one-woman example and even won a Golden Globe.
  • Stage Mom: Perhaps the Ur-Example, to the point where critics have called Mama Rose a uniquely American character archetype. She forces June, and later Louise, to be stars, managing every aspect of their lives and sacrificing their happiness and dignity in the name of fame. As with other stage mothers, it's also projection, as Rose desperately wants to be a star herself and so forces her daughters to make her own dream come true.
  • Time-Passes Montage: Gypsy is depicted in increasingly expensive theaters, while showing how her act becomes more and more confident.
  • Tomboy and Girly Girl: Louise and June - though Louise is probably not a tomboy by choice. Louise becomes a Girly Girl as Gypsy - while retaining her tomboyishness.
  • Trademark Favorite Food: Rose and her girls love chow mein.
  • Triumphant Reprise: June’s version of “Let Me Entertain You” has a dark undertone due to how much June grows to resent her stage persona, but when Louise sings it, it’s all about personal empowerment in a career she loves.
  • The Unsmile: Louise puts one on for the photoshoot right after a fight with Rose. It's not particularly creepy, but it's definitely fake.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story:
    • Of Gypsy Rose Lee and Baby June, who'd later adopt the stage name June Havoc.
    • June was not very pleased with how she was portrayed in the musical, but was paid to keep her mouth shut for her sister's sake. The musical caused the tension in their relationship to grow until Gypsy became ill later in life and died. Gypsy Rose Lee herself often embellished elements of her life when she told stories from her past.
  • Vicariously Ambitious: Rose's dreams of stardom never got realized, and this directly feeds into her motive for being one of the most famous Stage Moms in all of fiction.
  • Villain Protagonist: Just how bad she seems can vary depending on the production, but if there's any villain in Gypsy, it's Momma Rose.
  • Westminster Chimes: The final cadence of "Everything's Coming Up Roses" is a modified version.
  • What Could Have Been: An In-Universe example with "Rose's Turn", where she laments she was born too early to become a vaudeville star in her own right.
    Rose: Why did I do it? / What did it get me? / Scrapbooks full of me in the background.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?:
  • You Need to Get Laid: June and Louise both sing "If Mama Was Married," which is basically them dreaming about what life would be like if their mom would stay married, calm down, and leave them be.