Gypsy: A Musical Fable is the full title of a musical with music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, and a book by Arthur Laurents. (It is usually referred to as simply Gypsy.) It is frequently considered one of the crowning achievements of the mid-20th century's conventional musical theatre art form, often called the "book musical." Gypsy is loosely based on the memoirs of Gypsy Rose Lee, the famous striptease artist, and focuses on her struggle with her mother, Mama Rose, whose name has become synonymous with "the ultimate show business mother." It contains many songs that became popular standards, including "Small World," "Everything's Coming Up Roses," "You'll Never Get Away from Me," and "Let Me Entertain You."
The original staging, produced by David Merrick, opened on May 21, 1959 and starred Ethel Merman and Jack Klugman, with Sandra Church in the title role. Choreography was by Jerome Robbins.
The original Broadway cast album is notable as Ethel Merman's first recording in the then-new stereophonic sound technology. (Motion pictures recorded in stereo had been steadily made since 1953, and stereo was first used on magnetic tape in 1954, but it was not until 1958, a year before Gypsy opened, that it became possible to use this technology on records.)
In 1962, Warner Bros. released a film version, starring, respectively, Rosalind Russell, Karl Malden, and Natalie Wood. Lisa Kirk dubbed Rosalind Russell's singing voice, but Russell's attempts at singing were rediscovered on scratchy acetate discs and recently made available as supplements on the CD reissue of the film soundtrack.
The musical has been revived three times on Broadway, running from 1974–1975 with Angela Lansbury as Rose, from 1989–1991 with Tyne Daly initially as Rose, later replaced by Linda Lavin, and most recently in 2003 with Bernadette Peters.
The musical was also adapted as a television movie in 1993 with Bette Midler playing Rose, and directed by Emile Ardolino. Cynthia Gibb portrayed Louise and Jennifer Beck portrayed Dainty June.
A 1998 production featuring Betty Buckley and Deborah Gibson at the Paper Mill Playhouse never made it to Broadway, but became a subject of some notoriety in the theatre community when e-mails from an anonymous cast member detailing the backstage behaviour of the stars became public. The author was eventually revealed as John Flynn, who has now done several New York stagings of his cabaret act (with parodies of Gypsy songs), Dances with Pitchforks, based on his experiences portraying "Non-Equity Farmboy 5".
In 2003, a Sam Mendes-directed production of Gypsy played at the Shubert Theatre. Bernadette Peters portrayed Rose, Tammy Blanchard portrayed Louise, and John Dossett portrayed Herbie.
On June 13, 2006, it was announced that Rob Marshall (director of the 2002 film Chicago) might reunite with Catherine Zeta-Jones (who played Velma Kelly in the Chicago film) for another film adaptation of Gypsy.
The role of Mama Rose in Gypsy is regarded as the pinnacle of all diva roles in musical theatre, as seen by its frequent revivals with big name stars (some perhaps more deserving than others), a reputation that began with its original cast and the legendary Ethel Merman. However, in the most recent revival Arthur Laurents, book writer and previous director of the show, praised Bernadette Peters "as the best" Rose yet, bringing to the role a poignant "sense of vulnerability." Due to a poor marketing strategy and an unfortunate vocal infection of its star during previews, the Peters revival of Gypsy received limited commercial success despite critics' approval. Ms. Peters was nominated for a Tony Award for her performance as Mama Rose, famously singing the Act II closer "Rose's Turn" at the 2004 Tonys, but did not win.
A rumor exists that Rosalind Russell was rushed to the hospital after she accidentally inserted a hatpin through her head while filming the "Some People" scene in the 1962 film version.