As the news is released that the recent Chichester Festival Theatre production of Gypsy starring Imelda Staunton is preparing itself for a limited run at the Savoy Theatre next year, I think it’s fair to say that this is as good a time as any to take a look back on the many incredible productions of one of my favourite musicals there has been, and the incredible talents who have taken on the role of Mamma Rose along the way...
The Original Gypsy Broadway Production (1959)
It was Broadway veteran Ethel Merman who took on the role before anyone else came along, and the original Broadway production opened on May the 21st 1959 at The Broadway Theatre, before transferring to the Imperial (where Cinderella and Les Miz currently run, respectively). The show was nominated for eight Tonys that year, but failed to win any. Regardless, the show went on to run for 702 performances and two previews, and closed on March the 25th, 1961: the show then set off two touring companies, and one of them starred Merman as the lead.
The Original Gypsy London Production (1973)
It took a further 12 years after the show shuttered on Broadway to spawn a London production, and it was soon announced that Elaine Stritch would be taking on the lead. However, when tickets sales started to prove to be lacklustre, producers hired familiar face Angela Lansbury to take on the role instead. The show opened at the Piccadilly Theatre (currently home to Jersey Boys) and ran from May the 29th 1973 until March the 2nd 1974 for 300 performances.
Broadway revivals in the 20th Century
Gypsy was revived twice more before the new millennium with only a 14 year gap between the two revivals. It was first revived in 1974 as a pre-Broadway tour (before landing at the Winter Garden Theatre in 1975) with an identical production to the first West End one: also starring Lansbury in the lead. The show was then revived once more in 1989 with Tyne Daly in the lead and ran from November the 16th 1989 until July the 28th, 1991. Daly won the Tony Award in 1990 for her performance as Mamma Rose.
Gypsy Broadway revivals in the past decade (or so)
In the past decade or so, the show has been revived twice more with two more Broadway veterans. On March the 31st 2003, the show was revived at the Shubert Theatre (now home to Matilda) starring Bernadette Peters as Mamma Rose. The show beat box office records at the theatre twice, but the show ultimately closed on May the 30th 2004. The show was then revived once again on March the 27th 2008 with Patti LuPone as Mamma Rose, and LuPone, the show and other cast members like Laura Benanti all won Tonys: the show eventually closed on January the 11th. And if you want to have a laugh at something so amazing yet ridiculous, YouTube search the video when Patti stops singing mid-way through Rose’s Turn at her penultimate performance to shout at a man taking photos illegally – Best. Thing. EVER.
Gypsy is one of my top five all time favourite musicals and I fell in love with it through soundtracks (with Bernadette Peters’ revival being my favourite) and the movies (the 1993 version starring Bette Midler is amazing) so I cannot wait to finally catch the show live in a theatre for the first time when Imelda Staunton leads Gypsy at the Savoy Theatre next year. If you want to see a fantastic Broadway classic then book Gypsy tickets as soon as possible – I can assure you that you will not regret it.
By Shaun Nolan