Sam Mendes Gypsy (2003)

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Sam Mendes Gypsy (2003) #1
Posted: 5/18/20 at 5:49am

During lockdown Ive been returning to this production a bit in terms of audios, reading reviews, listening to the cast recording etc.

I have seen the full production via the Lincoln Archive years ago, but not live (and I personally find it’s harder to remember things seen at the archive).

It seemed like a lot of the hype at the time was that it was indeed a Sam Mendes production - an Oscar winning director who also had great success reinventing Cabaret. And there appeared to be hype he’d do something interesting with Gypsy - But in practice was the Sam Mendes Gypsy really much different from a standard fare production? The only things that stand out to me are:

* The sequence after the overture to introduce a show within a show concept (which Arthur Laurents complained killed the mood/momentum), and then the concept being occasionally revisited with replacing the cards on the side of the stage (but to not much great effect)

* Perhaps guiding Rose to be more desperate than others. I love the way Bernadette shouts DONT YOU DARE LAUGH and in Roses Turn I love the wellllllllllll. Someone tell me when is it my turn moment (although overall I do think Bernadettes spoken lines are a bit too shouted especially in the first act).

What else was different about this production?
 

"Rose in Gypsy was like going through therapy for me. Playing Rose helped me put a lot of emotions to bed. There was so much lacking in Rose and that's why she had to prove herself through her children. [interviewer]In ways that reminded you of your mom?[/interviewer]. Let's just say the role was very interesting for me. That one was the most interesting [I've ever played]" - Bernadette Peters (2018)
Updated On: 5/18/20 at 05:49 AM
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Sam Mendes Gypsy (2003) #2
Posted: 5/18/20 at 8:17am

First, Sam Mendes created a very theatrical presentation by keeping it minimal and barebones and having the entire stage full exposed at all times (you saw the exposed brick wall, things in the wings, etc). Having that skeleton proscenium drop down during the Baby/Dainty June numbers gave us a view of everything taking place in the wings, most notably Mama Rose emulating everything Baby/Dainty June was doing on stage: the choreography, the staging, etc. ALL other productions use the theatre’s proscenium so this is never incorporated. Also, Mendes gave his GYPSY a more raw tone like Dainty June sitting down in her “Broadway” costume and lightning a cigarette. So much subtext in that one simple gesture. It was a fresh approach to a musical always staged traditionally so I loved it. Watching them create the Act 1 closer railroad set was simply magic by only using long poles laying on the stage. Sheer theatrical genius.

Sam Mendes Gypsy (2003)

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Sam Mendes Gypsy (2003) #3
Posted: 5/18/20 at 9:11am

I saw the show in previews when Bernadette was out, so I can't comment specifically on her performance (although I will say that Maureen Moore was outstanding).  Like BrodyFosse123 said, the production was in many ways very stripped down and much grittier and steeped in realism than prior major productions (similar to what he did with Cabaret in many ways).  The sets were minimal (although I recall reading that they added more scenery throughout previews, so I can't 100% say what the finished product was like), the lighting was for the most part very dim with occasional spotlights to bring out key moments, and there was just an overall undertone of sadness to most of the characters that a lot of other productions had missed.  A lot of people hated it because of those reasons, but I actually really liked the darker take on the story, and I especially liked that they tried something different instead of giving us the 100th reincarnation of the original production.

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Sam Mendes Gypsy (2003) #4
Posted: 5/18/20 at 9:47am

You were able to look backstage during the Baby and Dainty June numbers and see Rose and Herbie changing costumes and set pieces.  Honestly that's all I really remember about the changes...

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Sam Mendes Gypsy (2003) #5
Posted: 5/18/20 at 12:25pm

I saw it a few weeks before it closed and loved it. It was my first exposure to Gypsy, and although I didn't see it with LuPone, I've seen the show produced regionally. 

I thought the minimalism worked well as it kept the focus on the story and the characters, and I loved how they were able to evoke setting with just a few spare pieces (like the train station scene at the end of Act 1) The moment that BrodyFosse describes above, with the audience able to see Rose in the wings during the Baby / Dainty June numbers was extraordinary. Bernadette was in top form, and I thought she brought wonderful sense of vulnerability to the role. She was by turns fragile and domineering - when she sang the reprise of 'Small World', she truly seemed like she was on the verge of collapsing.

Not sure why this production got so much hate from some people. It remains one of my favorite theatergoing experiences.

"You drank a charm to kill John Proctor's wife! You drank a charm to kill Goody Proctor!" - Betty Parris to Abigail Williams in Arthur Miller's The Crucible
Updated On: 5/18/20 at 12:25 PM
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Sam Mendes Gypsy (2003) #6
Posted: 5/18/20 at 3:55pm

I remember watching the Seth's Broadway Chatterbox episode/interview(God, I wish he would upload those in full somewhere) with David Burtka who played Tulsa in this production. I remember him mentioning that Sam Mendes wanted this Gypsy to be in the same tone as his Cabaret. Rose was suppose to have makeup running down her face during Rose's Turn, and just the whole show having this gritty, rough texture to it that, again Cabaret had. He started to do this, and then Arthur got involved and (if I remember correctly) wanted to shut the production down unless Mendes allowed Laurents to "advise" the production, which is why the tone could have been a bit uneven.

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Sam Mendes Gypsy (2003) #7
Posted: 5/19/20 at 5:51am

fashionguru_23 said: "I remember watching the Seth's Broadway Chatterbox episode/interview(God, I wish he would upload those in full somewhere) with David Burtka who played Tulsa in this production. I remember him mentioning that Sam Mendes wanted this Gypsy to be in the same tone as his Cabaret. Rose was suppose to have makeup running down her face during Rose's Turn, and just the whole show having this gritty, rough texture to it that, again Cabaret had. He started to do this, and then Arthur got involved and (if I remember correctly) wanted to shut the production down unless Mendes allowed Laurents to "advise" the production, which is why the tone could have been a bit uneven."

This would not surprise me, and it’s a shame that Laurents had to get in the way - especially since he had his own opportunity to do it his way just 5 years later. 

It also makes me reflect on the current WSS production and whether it would have ever happened had Laurents been alive. I suspect not. 

"Rose in Gypsy was like going through therapy for me. Playing Rose helped me put a lot of emotions to bed. There was so much lacking in Rose and that's why she had to prove herself through her children. [interviewer]In ways that reminded you of your mom?[/interviewer]. Let's just say the role was very interesting for me. That one was the most interesting [I've ever played]" - Bernadette Peters (2018)
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Sam Mendes Gypsy (2003) #8
Posted: 5/19/20 at 7:54am
Laurent’s discusses his feelings on this production in great detail in his “Mainly on Directing” book.
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Sam Mendes Gypsy (2003) #9
Posted: 5/19/20 at 9:52am

Having seen Angela Lansbury's Rose in 1974, Tyne Daly's in 1989, Bernadette's in 2003, Patti's in 2008 and Imelda Staunton on line recently,  in my opinion, Bernadette was the absolute best. Her "iron fist in a velvet glove" interpretation seemed to me to be the most believable. She was sexy and understated and I could easily see how Herbie could hang on with this Rose for so many years. And according to June Havoc, who was alive at the time, Bernadette was most like her mother actually was. I never understood the complete adoration for Patti's take on Rose. While admirable, it seemed to me to be a very one note performance. And please don't get me started on Staunton's steam locomotive barreling down the tracks performance. My next favorite Rose was Angela Lansbury. She gave nuance, subtly and relatability to a role that is most often deemed a monster. Tyne Daly actually was able to bring warmth and likeability as well but her singing was not the best. I also appreciated Mendes' take on the behind the scenes seaminess of show biz that I felt Arthur Laurents's direction lacked.

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Sam Mendes Gypsy (2003) #10
Posted: 5/19/20 at 11:24am

Having seen Patti, Angela, Bernadette, Bette Buckley and Imelda Staunton in the role, I would personally put BP towards the bottom. And she was very good and I have been a fan of her since I saw her in Mack And Mabel.  I saw Imelda' version in London, so that and Angela's are my favorite.  I liked the BP production as it was filled with clever directorial touches which have been mentioned and was more exciting to watch than a standard production (like Bette Buckley's version at The Papermill Playhouse).  It is only after I saw the production that I realized the trumpet player for the BP version (as it is played on the CD) must have blown their lungs out during the trumpet solo--not sure if it was always played that away in the pit,yet on the CD--what sound! 

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Sam Mendes Gypsy (2003) #11
Posted: 5/19/20 at 12:10pm

I understand that the general consensus on the Mendes production leans towards its failures, but having seen the production on Mother's Day 2004 (with Maureen Moore on for Rose), I will say it remains my favorite production of Gypsy.

I've seen Patti at City Center (several times...and a few act 2's only...), and several times on Broadway. It was a wonderful production, and I remain a huge LuPone fan, but I left remembering Benanti's dressing room scene more that any of Patti's performance. At City Center, she had a great deal of humor (I fondly remember the stealing the silverware at the Chinese restaurant), but some of that was lost on Broadway, and later in the run it did seem, as someone mentioned above, a bit "one-note."

With that being said, the 2003 Gypsy recording remains my favorite recent recording of the piece--I want to adore Patti's recording, her singing is fabulous, but there is something cold and empty on that recording. The 2003 recording has superb orchestrations and far superior sound overall, but I love what the Patti recording also includes.

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Sam Mendes Gypsy (2003) #12
Posted: 5/19/20 at 1:23pm
I actually believe Patti’s recording/production had a slightly larger orchestra than Bernadette’s, but I agree there is something missing from the recording, but I still enjoy it.
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Sam Mendes Gypsy (2003) #13
Posted: 5/19/20 at 1:38pm

I do seem to recall hearing Arthur being FURIOUS Mendes staged Rose's Turn as a mental breakdown with tears, anger, going a bit crazy, etc. Ironic he ended up using it for Patti's production.

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Sam Mendes Gypsy (2003) #14
Posted: 5/19/20 at 4:35pm

This thread is also a great reminder of what a magnificent performer Maureen Moore is. She went on pretty regularly for Bernadette, especially during previews when she was struggling with a respiratory infection. Partly because of that, Maureen was vocally stronger than Peters (who was, by the way, an excellent Rose) and her acting was terrific as well. On a meta level, it was thrilling to see someone like Maureen Moore, who has spent most of her career in the wings as a standby, taking centre stage for those great numbers, and bringing some real-life experience to Rose's Turn (here's an audio clip of it). She was also an excellent standby for Betty Buckley and Elaine Paige in Sunset Boulevard.

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Sam Mendes Gypsy (2003) #15
Posted: 5/19/20 at 10:35pm

Trivia note: Maureen Moore played June with Angela Lansbury on Broadway and when we recreated that production in South Florida the following year. Both ladies were not only brilliant in performance but lovely to work with at all times. (Moore came back the following year to do WONDERFUL TOWN with Lauren Bacall. Her "Eileen" was exquisite and better sung than anybody since Edie Adams.)

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Sam Mendes Gypsy (2003) #16
Posted: 5/19/20 at 11:20pm

I have seen it live with Lansbury (5 times), Daly, Lavin, Peters, Julia Murney, and Betty Buckley; on film / tape, I saw Russell, Midler and Staunton.  Unfortunately, I missed Lupone's performance, due to a combination of factors (timing or trips, other things I wanted to see and, to be honest, as much as I enjoy Lupone, Gypsy burnout.

I think that Lansbury gave the single greatest musical performance by a female in 55 years of theatre going; I loved her Rose's Turn, especially the way she acted it, including her 'delusional' bows.  Despite that, the version of Rose'sTurn that gives me goosebumps the most, including Merman's and Lupones, is not Lansbury's, it is Peters'.  The way she sang 'welllllllllllllllllllll someone tell me when is it my turn' was just so perfect to me, and she is the only one who ever did it that way.  I think it is (theatrical) criminality that she did not win the Tony for her performance.  She was definitely #2 after Lansbury in any medium.  It was a riskier performance that worked much better for me that the other really risky performance, Staunton's, which was awful.

I think she was hurt by the bad press that she received early in the run when she was having vocal problems.  There was so much nastiness before the show even opened.  By the time I saw it, a couple of months later, her voice was in fine form.  (The same thing happened with Boyd Gaines in Company...I saw him in it twice a little further into the run, and his voice was in great form, but he got raked over the coals in the press before the damn thing even opened).  I also think she lost because of the Hairspray juggernaut.  As much as I loved Hairspray and Winokur's performance, her role / performance were not in the same league to me.  (I also thought that Antonio Banderas should have won lead actor; I LOVE Harvey as much as anyone, and he was wonderful in the role, but it just didn't seem like a hard role to play and it was not a big role either.

IMO Gypsy has always had pretty low budget, pretty uninteresting sets, so I have to admit that I didn't really notice that the sets were minimalist.  I thought that the glimpses of back stage added to the experiences others stated, and I seem to remember that there was a throwaway at one point where a stripper was walking back stage bare breasted.  I am sure that Mendes wanted to say that burlesque was a lot grittier than other Gypsy's have conveyed, but it was not necessary (and over so quickly that I am sure a lot of folks missed it altogether.

The worst Rose IMO:Live -- Betty Buckley; taped / filmed -- Staunton, although I have always felt that Russell and Midler both overacted (in a role that allows much latitude to begin with).

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Sam Mendes Gypsy (2003) #17
Posted: 5/20/20 at 8:17am

hands down, this GYPSY had the best conductor: Marvin Laird

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Sam Mendes Gypsy (2003) #18
Posted: 5/20/20 at 5:29pm

I rarely comment, this "Gypsy" was just boring.  I was so excited to see it and left with a feeling of "eh."   Bernadette seemed lost in the role and I did see it early in the run and her voice was not good.  The only thing I truly loved about the show was the art work for the poster.   I still have it framed and on the wall in our media room.  

 

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Sam Mendes Gypsy (2003) #19
Posted: 5/21/20 at 10:42am

fashionguru_23 said: "I remember watching the Seth's Broadway Chatterbox episode/interview(God, I wish he would upload those in full somewhere) with David Burtka who played Tulsa in this production."

 

Seth has uploaded a few episodes over the years. Here is Burtka's where he discusses Gypsy: thttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D9_Z3piV6Rg

 

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Sam Mendes Gypsy (2003) #20
Posted: 5/21/20 at 12:35pm

Fascinating! I am convinced that it wasn't Sam Mendes who ruined this production - it was Arthur Laurents. And it was Arthur Laurents who stole the Tony from Bernadette!! That Rose's Turn sounds amazing to me and not something a Tony voter would easily forget. 

Also nice hearing the stories of Bernadette buying everyone gifts and having parties. She sounds like such a sweetheart.

Quotes from David's interview:

What was it like working with Bernadette?

Unbelievable, unbelievable. She stayed quiet - she didn't talk much. But when she did it was very poignant. She was so generous, always throwing parties. She gave the girls Tiffany rings and the boys Tiffany cuff-links - sterling silver. She was so generous, so sweet. 

Was she consistent (in terms of performance?)

Everyone changes every night. She was amazing every night - but when it had to count, it counted. When the NYtimes were in the audience it was the best performance you'd ever see in your entire life.

What was it like working with cranky-ass Laurents?

It was......well, I have lots of stories but I probably can't really tell them. There was this time where he invited me over to his house and, ended up - it was crazy. It was kind of upsetting, Sam had this vision of what Gypsy was supposed to be in his mind - it being the new Cabaret. Being really dark and dirty. Had a cigarette and was feeling up the strippers. It was going to that Cabaret version of Gypsy -  what that backstage gritty, dirty, not-so-nice vaudeville feel.

And Arthur Laurents came in and said no you can't do that, you can't do that, you can't do that, you can't do that, you can't do that.

And Sam was like, I hate you. I can't - what are you doing to my show? 

So you mean it changed before it opened?

Oh yeah, big time. Like, at the end of the show - he wanted Bernadette - I don't know if I should be saying this, but he wanted Bernadette to be really just mascara running, and ugly, and mean, and raw. But it just wasn't allowed, so it was kind of unfortunate.

Arthur Laurents had that kind of power? He said you can't have massacre running?

Yes. But I mean, working with Sam was amazing and Arthur Laurents - he was a tricky guy. That's all I'll say about him.

 

 

"Rose in Gypsy was like going through therapy for me. Playing Rose helped me put a lot of emotions to bed. There was so much lacking in Rose and that's why she had to prove herself through her children. [interviewer]In ways that reminded you of your mom?[/interviewer]. Let's just say the role was very interesting for me. That one was the most interesting [I've ever played]" - Bernadette Peters (2018)
Updated On: 5/21/20 at 12:35 PM
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Sam Mendes Gypsy (2003) #21
Posted: 5/23/20 at 2:11pm

29 years ago (May 18, 1991) I saw GYPSY at the Marquis with Tyne Daly. My friend and I were in town on business for the weekend, and we wanted to see 'Phantom' but couldn't get tickets. The concierge at the hotel we stayed at told us to see 'Gypsy' - we'd love it.  Did we ever ! To this day, it's one of those shows I will never ever forget. Daly was incredible, and I haven't seen another stage adaption since. 

I always enjoyed the Russel movie, and always hated the Midler movie. 

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Sam Mendes Gypsy (2003) #22
Posted: 5/23/20 at 4:05pm

Regarding the Best Actress Tony Award in 2003, I wonder if the results would have been different had Gypsy opened earlier in the season? Even though Bernadette powered through a number of the early performances, I do know (and yes, this a small sample size anecdotally) that at least some voters still saw her struggling through the show and it was clear that she had not yet reached the performance level that she displayed at the Tony Awards. Obviously a big hypothetical, but even if she had still had those health issues at that same time, she could potentially have been in a better place if she had had more performances prior to getting sick.

I'd also add that even though Bernadette was giving a phenomenal performance, Marissa Jaret Winokur was giving an equally amazing performance in a very different role. She made you love and root for Tracy from the first bars of "Good Morning, Baltimore" and really was electric on stage.

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Sam Mendes Gypsy (2003) #23
Posted: 5/24/20 at 4:52am

Mm surely it must have had some effect either on what voters saw or even just the general 'buzz' around the performance. And while there was a rave Brantley NYTimes review I can see that Charles Isherwood of Variety, for example was not so favourable. This couldn't have helped (and indeed may also be an opinion shared by those who saw her performance).

Brantley (NYtimes)

YOU can tear down the black crepe, boys. Take the hearse back to the garage, and start popping Champagne corks. Momma's pulled it off, after all -- big time.

Playing a role that few people thought would ever fit her and shadowed by vultures predicting disaster, Bernadette Peters delivered the surprise coup of many a Broadway season in the revival of ''Gypsy'' that opened last night at the Shubert Theater.

Ms. Peters, a beloved eternal daughter of the American musical, has taken on that genre's most daunting maternal role: Momma Rose, the ultimate stage mother in the ultimate backstage show and a part cast in bronze by Ethel Merman more than four decades ago. Working against type and expectation under the direction of Sam Mendes, Ms. Peters has created the most complex and compelling portrait of her long career, and she has done this in ways that deviate radically from the Merman blueprint.

Isherwood (Variety)

Somewhere in the massive trunk of theatrical wit and wisdom that is “Gypsy,” there’s a line for every showbiz occasion. For the highly anticipated new Broadway revival directed by Sam Mendes, it would be a paraphrase of a song title from the first act: All it needs is a Rose. Mendes’ vivid and stylish production has a lot going for it, in fact almost everything except the one element this musical can’t comfortably do without: a galvanizing performance in the central role. The controversial casting of the downy-soft Bernadette Peters as the flinty Mama Rose proves to be, as many had feared, a miscalculation that all this talented performer’s hard work simply cannot overcome.

----

It appears there was a NYTimes feature about the Tony loss:

 

What happened to ''Gypsy''?

Despite the direction of Sam Mendes, a darling of the theater because of his production of ''Cabaret''; despite the star power of Bernadette Peters in one of the greatest roles ever written for the musical theater; despite many reviews that proclaimed Ms. Peters's performance a psychologically nuanced revelation, Ms. Peters and the rest of this revival left Radio City Music Hall empty-handed after the Tony Awards Sunday night.

What went wrong? Although the show suffered from bad buzz before it opened, many critics agreed that the final result was a pleasant surprise. In part the show was hampered by Ms. Peters's absences because of illness; The New York Post suggested that she had shown up to perform selectively: for critics and Tony voters. The suspicions created some ill will along Broadway.

But many theater veterans predicted that the awards would not affect the show's sales. They also said that Ms. Peters's performance during the Tonys of the showstopper ''Rose's Turn'' -- which brought the audience leaping to its feet -- would sell tickets by itself. In addition Sunday night's award for best actress in a musical was a way to reward a newcomer, Marissa Jaret Winokur of ''Hairspray.'' Ms. Peters has already won two Tonys.

------

After Gypsy, my understanding is that Bernadette has never missed a Broadway performance again. 

-----

Also came across a feature of the production that recently made its way to YouTube - interestingly Arthur Laurents is giving publicity here "Bernadette I think, sings it better than anyone - and very differently. She can use her voice with more nuance for the lyrics and the character than the others" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M1_w3h7c_LI

 

"Rose in Gypsy was like going through therapy for me. Playing Rose helped me put a lot of emotions to bed. There was so much lacking in Rose and that's why she had to prove herself through her children. [interviewer]In ways that reminded you of your mom?[/interviewer]. Let's just say the role was very interesting for me. That one was the most interesting [I've ever played]" - Bernadette Peters (2018)
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Sam Mendes Gypsy (2003) #24
Posted: 5/24/20 at 5:25am

Even Franch Rich had his own mini-review/reference in the NYTimes:

More than four decades later this show exerts the same power on me it always has, maybe even more. The new revival starring Bernadette Peters, like almost every post-Merman ''Gypsy'' on stage and screen, will no doubt have its ardent fans and fierce detractors. When I saw the show in mid-previews, before it was presenting itself to the critics for last Thursday's opening, it was still, inevitably, a work in progress. The equally inevitable can-Bernadette-or-can't-she arguments were already roiling Shubert Alley, and will never end in unanimity.

But I was more persuaded than ever that ''Gypsy'' is one of the most enduring creations of the American theater, regardless of the star. Merman wasn't exactly an actress. Angela Lansbury wasn't precisely American. Rosalind Russell and Tyne Daly weren't really singers. Yet the show has proved large enough to accommodate the mothers of us all.


''It holds up the way 'Citizen Kane' holds up,'' says Mr. Sondheim of the show now. ''Every scene is juicy. The characters are vivid. The songs are sharp and entertaining. You can't get bored in 'Citizen Kane' and you can't get bored in 'Gypsy.' I can hear someone saying it's a vulgar show or an obvious show but not that it's a boring show.'' There is a bit of Kane as well in the driving, pioneer's energy that prevents Rose's character from becoming a hateful Mommie Dearest. ''The fact that she's monstrous to her daughters and the world is secondary,'' says Mr. Sondheim. ''She's a very American character, a gallant figure and a life force.'' He quotes one of Rose's lyrics from ''Everything's Coming Up Roses'' -- ''And nothing's gonna stop us till we're through!'' -- and adds, ''Everyone has to feel that and identify with it and go with it.''

He still marvels at his mother's self-delusional take on the show itself: ''She said, 'You know, Steve, there are mothers like that.' I couldn't believe it -- my jaw opened.''

"Rose in Gypsy was like going through therapy for me. Playing Rose helped me put a lot of emotions to bed. There was so much lacking in Rose and that's why she had to prove herself through her children. [interviewer]In ways that reminded you of your mom?[/interviewer]. Let's just say the role was very interesting for me. That one was the most interesting [I've ever played]" - Bernadette Peters (2018)
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Sam Mendes Gypsy (2003) #25
Posted: 5/24/20 at 8:55am

I was lucky enough to see Bernadette Peters twice in Gypsy.  In May 2003 I was so excited to see Gypsy for the first time onstage, having enjoyed the Merman recording and the Midler and Russel films.  I completely adored the production and Bernadette.  I thought she nailed it.  When I went back in January 2004, she had gotten even better, immersing herself in the role.  

I saw LuPone in the 2008 production 6 times.  I fell hard for her star power and wanted to see it over and over again.  Her performance remains a favorite.  Not to mention the performances from Benanti and Gaines.  However, the production itself was just, fine.  Laurents wrote a terrific book, but did he really direct with flair?  That's what I loved about the Mendes production.  It was different, it took risks.  I would love to see what it would have looked like if Sam had had full reign without the Laurents interference.  Maybe we will see something like that someday.

As mentioned above, Peters was certainly raked over the coals in early performances.  But I don't think she missed a single performance of Follies, Night Music, or Dolly.  And much as I enjoyed Winokur, Peters was robbed of that Tony.