Before Barbra: The Other Actresses To Tackle Mama Rose

October 6, 2014


Barbra Streisand’s film adaptation of Gypsy has been rumored for years now, and after recent updates it may actually be happening. She has told several news outlets that she will be both starring in and directing the film, with screenwriter Richard LaGravenese adapting the musical. Beyond the well-known portrayals of the ultimate stage mom by Ethel Merman and Rosalind Russell, many other great actresses have tackled the role on stage and screen. They each bring their own flavor to the role, and Barbra is sure to give us a version like none we have ever previously seen or heard. Before Barbra brings back Rose, here are a few other portrayals that are worth looking at.

1973 London Production – Angela Lansbury

Every millennial knows Angela Lansbury as Mrs. Potts from Beauty and the Beast, but this actress has been holding her own on stage for years. Angela starred in the first West End production of the show after Elaine Stritch was removed from the role. She later took the production to the US where she toured with the role. Her performance has become a sort of legend with fans who saw it, describing the level of energy and intensity she brought to the character. Some B-Role footage does exist, and gives a small taste of her electric Tony award-winning performance. Hearing Mrs. Potts sing “Rose’s Turn” is an experience worth having.

1993 Television Movie – Bette Midler

Slightly controversial with the casting of Bette Midler just three years after Tyne Daly won the Tony for best actress in the role on Broadway. Bette Midler was rumored as an option for the revival, but never got to perform the role. The movie was broadcast by CBS, and featured a screenplay that remained fairly faithful to the original production. The cast featured many Broadway performers including Christine Ebersole and Andrea Martin. The role isn’t a perfect fit for Midler’s voice, but is definitely worth a listen. Also, watch for Lacey Chabert of Mean Girls fame as Baby June, and Mad Men’s Elisabeth Moss as Baby Louise.

2003 Broadway Revival – Bernadette Peters

Arguably the most different actress type to play Mama Rose, Ben Brantley’s New York Times review praised her for breaking the mold set by Ethel Merman. Director Sam Mendes described Peters as being an actress who was more like Rose in reality, a tiny woman who was able to charm her way to getting what she wanted. Arthur Laurents also praised her performance for its originality while criticizing the physical production as misconceived. The production featured an extremely minimalist set, which was an upgrade from the previews that featured a stage that was virtually bare. The role was vocally demanding and difficult for Bernadette, and even with all of her praise, she wasn’t able to take home the Tony for Leading Actress in a Musical.

2008 Broadway Revival – Patti LuPone

Patti LuPone’s trip to Broadway with Gypsy was not a short one. Her first portrayal of Rose began as a concert production with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at Chicago’s Ravinia Festival in 2006. The artistic director of New York City Center Encores contacted book writer Arthur Laurents asking him to direct the production with LuPone for their series. The Encores production was successful, and the show transferred to Broadway in 2008 featuring Laura Benanti as Louise. The production was given a rave review by the New York Times, and went on to win Tony awards for Patti LuPone, Boyd Gaines, and Laura Benanti as leading actress, featured actor, and featured actress in a musical respectively. The production was well-received, but ultimately closed three months early due to low ticket sales, and at a financial loss for its producers.