A Musical Fable

Book by Arthur Laurents
Music by Jule Styne
Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
adapted from the memoirs of Gypsy Rose Lee


Opened at the Broadway Theatre    May 21, 1959    702 performances (revived often, at least four Broadway revivals to date!)
Original Director: Jerome Robbins
Original Choreographer: Robbins
Original Producer: David Merrick and Leland Hayward
Original Leads: Mama Rose: Ethel Merman    Herbie: Jack Klugman    Louise (Gypsy Rose Lee): Sandra Church    June: Lane Bradbury
Cast Size: Male: 2    Female: 6    Ensemble: Large, with kids    Total Cast Size: around 24-32
Orchestra: 19 (and one of the greatest overtures EVER!)
Published Script: Random House
Production Rights: Tams Witmark
Recordings: Many, including the original Broadway, another with Angela Lansbury, another with Bernadette Peters, Tyne Daly did one, Patti Lupone did one, all interesting. No one is Merman, though. But then, no one is Peters, or Lansbury, or Lupone…
Film: With Rosalind Russell, it’s interesting, but edits the score badly.
Other shows by the authors: Laurents: West Side Story, Anyone Can Whistle, La Cage Aux Folles    Styne: Bells Are Ringing , Funny Girl   Sondheim: West Side Story, Gypsy, A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum, Anyone Can Whistle, Follies, CompanyA Little Night MusicSweeney Todd, Pacific Overtures, Merrily We Roll Along, Sunday In The Park With George, Into The Woods, Passion, Assassins
Awards: 8 Tony noms for the original production, it lost all of them, inexcusable. Gypsy is one of the great classics in the Musical Theatre repertoire.


You can tell from the above notes, perhaps, that Gypsy is a star vehicle for a magnificent, mature female performer who can sing like mad, and who has fantastic acting skills. So every woman who has ever appeared in a musical and who is of age wants the role of Mama Rose, which is fascinating because she’s quite unlikeable most of the time. So your first concern – do you have an incredibly strong, mature actress for the lead. If you’re looking for a star vehicle for a woman who is truly a show-stopper, and in her late 30s-40s, this might be your show.

Not for High School or younger, certainly. Colleges and Universities might consider it, but the Madame Rose part might need to be imported, a ringer as it were. Large stock companies with access to children might try it. Regional, semi-pro and professional companies and producers with a lot of resources should certainly consider it, and they often do, given the number of revivals that Gypsy has enjoyed.

Be Warned:

To say this is not a show for everyone is to understate it. It is a masterpiece of a kind, a peak of adult writing, professionalism and showmanship reached by the Musical Theater in its golden age, and a show that reaches into mighty dark depths with courage and conviction. There are people within the theater who consider Gypsy the greatest musical ever written. But it’s about the worst of all stage-mothers, whom many critics refer to as a “monster.” Mama Rose abused her children (for their own good…), and her daughter, Louise, grew up to become the world’s foremost stripper, Gypsy Rose Lee, and considered it a triumph.

(Her other daughter, June, known as June Havoc, acted in films.)

Sex sells…but not for every theater and audience. There’s even a number where three comic strippers reveal their trade secrets. It’s very funny, it works – but not for everyone.

You will also need children, a lot of them, to do this show. They must sing and dance well. And their parents must be okay with them appearing in a show with scantily-dressed women. Need I point out that could be a difficulty?

This is also a very large show. Lots of sets and costumes. Huge cast. Big orchestra. (And once you hear the overture on an album or live, you’ll understand at least part of why you need a real orchestra for this show. There are other compelling reasons.)


ACT ONE: Uncle Jocko’s Kiddie Show, in Seattle. Jocko, an oily Master of Ceremonies, runs a rehearsal with a room filled with badly-costumed kids and stage mothers. The slimy womanizer quickly prepares the children to perform. June and Louise, Rose’s two daughters, show him part of their number, “May We Entertain You”. Rose starts yelling from front for Louise to catch up. Jocko tries to get the irrepressible Rose to be quiet, but she starts doing the man’s job for him. He is deeply annoyed, but when he laughs at Rose, she becomes enraged. She threaten him with bad press, and defeated, he selects her girls to perform.

Back home, Rose rages over Jocko, and swears she’ll get her kids booked on the Orpheum Circuit, pro vaudeville theaters. They are broke, Rose eats dog food and saves the real food for her girls. She announces that she’s had a dream last night, of June and a new act, Baby June and Her Newsboys. Louise wants to quit show biz. Mama is determined, and she will find the boys for the act, and Louise will play a boy, too. Rose’s father, an old man, listens in with disgust. The girls head to bed, and he berates his daughter for misleading her girls. She asks for money, he hasn’t any. He tells her to get married, but she’s done that three times and has no intention of doing it again. It becomes clear that Rose much favors June over Louise. Pop wants her to do something honest and steady to support her kids, like he did, proudly pointing at a gold plaque he received from work when he retired. But Rose believes that “Some People” are cut out for a boring home life, just not her. She steals his gold plaque to sell it.

On the road. Rose almost kidnaps children to put them in her daughter’s act. Backstage in a vaudeville house in Los Angeles. Rose fights with the theatre manager to put her kids on. A nice man, Herbie, listens. He supports Rose, and the manager considers it. Rose doesn’t know how to thank Herbie. They’re perfect for each other – he works in show biz but hates it, he wants to get married but she doesn’t and she won’t give up show biz. (“Small World”) The act goes on, a rag version the June and Her Newsboys perform of “Let Me Entertain You”. It (stupidly) grows into a patriotic number. June does her best.

Akron, in a crappy hotel room. Rose gets the girls and the newsboys up. It is Louise’s birthday. She receives some cheap, simple gifts, but is thrilled with the attention. Ans Rose has had another dream, June with a singing cow. The next act. The landlord breaks in, appalled to find so many children. But she stages a phony rape, accuses the man, and he hurries away. Herbie runs in, concerned. But he’s seen this act before. He brings a Mr. Goldstone with him, and he’s with the Orpheum Circuit, the best Vaudeville theatres in the country. The act is booked, and Rose almost goes mad with joy. (“Mr. Goldstone, I Love You”) Alone and forgotten, Louise sings to a stuffed “Little Lamb she received for her birthday.

New York. She and the kids eat Chinese food as always, as Herbie watches. Rose sends the kids to bed. He disapproves of her stealing things, she wonders how long it will take him to get used to her. He wants to be alone with her, but she protests – the children! Herbie points out that they’re almost young women, now. Vaudeville is dying, it’s the Great Depression, Herbie loves her and he wants her to quit showbiz and marry him, and send the girls to school. She ignores him, and he says that one day, he’ll walk. But she believes that “You’ll Never Get Away From Me”.

A good theatre in NYC. The girls are auditioning for the owner. They do their Dainty June and Her Farmboys act. (Yup, there’s a cow in it…) They’re hired. The owner’s secretary talks to June, asks her how old she is. She says nine, a patent lie. The contract, as it turns out, is for a lesser theatre in the owner’s chain of theatres. When Rose complains, she’s informed that it’s really only June the owner likes. He thinks she could be an actress, but feels she needs to train in a school for a year. He’ll pay to send her to study if Rose stays away. And he’ll give the act one week in his other theatre. June wants this opportunity. Rose rails furiously. Both girls dream that “If Momma Was Married”, maybe they could lead normal lives.

Buffalo. Herbie steps outside into an alley, to find one of the boys, Tulsa, working on his tap, and his own act. There has been a lot of layoffs, not much business. Herbie lets Tulsa know that if he has problems, he can talk them over with him, and exits. Louise is in love with Tulsa, and wants to be a part of his act. He shows her his number, “All I Need Is The Girl”. She dances joyously with him, but their cue comes up and they hurry inside the theatre.

Omaha train terminal. Some of the boys are quitting, and Rose says good riddance. They want to quit because they feel that they’re too old. He offers to raise their salary, and Rose is furious that Herbie has been paying them anything at all. Turns out though that all the boys are leaving. Rose wants to know what’s going on, and Louise gives her a letter from June. She’s eloped. June, with Tulsa, the boy Louise had a crush on. The boys know that without June, the act is over. Herbie tells Rose he can go back into his old business, selling candy to theatres. It was steady. They could buy a house and he could take care of her. But Rose will not quit, and there’s still Louise. Rose will build a new act around her! Because for Rose, no matter what, “Everything’s Coming Up Roses”.

ACT TWO: Texas. In the desert. Rehearsal. Now, a chorus of young girls bring Louise on, for “Madame Rose’s Toreadorables”. Louise hates the number. It’s not very good. Herbie can’t find anyone who’ll book them. Rose wishes she had June to work with. Louise wants out of showbiz, But Rose, Herbie and Louise are a trio, now, “Together, Wherever We Go”. One girl enters with their letters, and asks Herbie if they will ever work again. They consider dying all the girl’s hair blonde, Louise’s idea. “Madam Rose’s Blonde Babies”, but Louise is sick of being called a baby anything.

Wichita. Backstage at a theatre. The girls are thrilled, backstage at a real, live theatre! Only to their shock, they discover that there are strippers in this show. It’s a Burlesque House! Rose is thrilled, they’re in a theatre! Three strippers walk by, scantily clad, discussing their various over-the-top (out-of-the-top?) acts. Rose suddenly gets where they are, and tells the girls to pack up, they’re leaving. She blames Herbie for the booking, and Louise stands up for him, sure he didn’t know. Louise and Rose have it out. Louise insists that at least this place will pay them, and there is no other place that will. Rose starts describing her latest dream, but Louise, in despair, apologizes for not being good enough to replace June. Herbie joins them, and they commiserate. Rose admits it’s a bad act, and agrees to wed Herbie at last. They agree, the girls will go on, and Herbie will marry Rose after their two week Burlesque gig ends. A raunchy stage manager demands their cues, and Herbie insists the man treat Rose and the girls like ladies.

Louise discovers she’s sharing a dressing room with Tessie Tura, a stripper. Tessie likes their costumes, and Louise tells her she made them. She agrees to make one for Tessie, for pay. Tessie watches Rose walk, and says she’d have made a damned fine stripper in her day. A comic needs a girl to go on with him, and Tessie says no, even to the ten bucks…but Louise says yes. Since she has nice legs, he approves of her. Straight man to a Burlesque comic, showing off her legs. It’s money, as she tells her mom. Two other strippers join the discussion after Rose exits, and they provide Louise a lesson in their brand of entertainment, in “You Gotta’ Get A Gimmick”.

The last day they will play Burlesque, backstage, and Herbie is thrilled. He’s going to get married. The empty dressing room. Rose is subdued, Louise watches her mother, Herbie is thrilled. He’s getting married. The owner, Cigar, comes through, bemoaning that a girl is missing, arrested for soliciting. He can’t cut her slot in the show, she’s the star. Rose suddenly sees a reprieve form impending retirement and marriage…Louise can fill the slot. He has no choice, he’ll put her on. He agrees that if she’s good, she can have the star’s salary. Herbie and Louise say nothing, stunned. Rose launches into preparing Louise, letting her know she won’t strip, she’ll just, well…tease. Just be a lady, parade about, show a knee and depart. She begs Louise not to quit until the choice isn’t the world’s, but their own choice. They piece together a costume, but only Rose is talking. Rose decides that “Let Me Entertain You” will work for music.

Herbie is furious. He’s leaving. He can see that Louise doesn’t want the act any more than June did. But Rose says Louise will be a star. He departs. Louise must go on in a moment. She’s said nothing. She looks herself over in a mirror, and realizes that she is pretty. She goes on, everyone yelling at her to do things. She removes a glove, looks at the audience with a smile, drops one shoulder strap.

And suddenly she’s Gypsy Rose Lee, touring the best Burlesque houses, all the way to New York. She is a star.

At Minsky’s, a dressing room backstage. Rose is furious that a sign has been posted, forbidding the mother of Gypsy Rose Lee backstage. So that’s where she is. Rose talks to Louise, who is now the highest paid stripper in the business, and who realizes, even if her mother does not, that Vaudeville is dead. Magazines want pictures of her, parties are thrown for her. But Rose isn’t invited. They fight, and Louise tells her that she won’t be yelled at, she’s not June. Rose really attacks her daughter’s new reputation and career, bitterly. Louise tells her to turn it off, that she loves her life now. She is Gypsy Rose Lee, and she loves it. And Rose needs to let her go. Rose asks Louise why she went through all this, and Louise says she thought she did it for her, for her children.

Alone in a spotlight, Rose furiously offers the world the star she could have been, should have been. It’s “Rose’s Turn”. It is a shocking display of anger, narcissism, and ability. And Louise watches fro the side of the stage. They talk, and Rose admits she did it all for herself, she wanted to be noticed. Louise insist she come to the party with her. Rose is thrilled, and shares one last dream with her daughter, that they appear on a magazine cover…and her daughter, for once, gets top billing.


“May We Entertain You”, “Some People”, “Small World”, “Mr. Goldstone, I Love You”, “Little Lamb”, “You’ll Never Get Away From Me”, “If Momma Was Married”, “All I Need Is The Girl”, “Everything’s Coming Up Roses”, “Madame Rose’s Toreadorables”, “Together, Wherever We Go”, “You Gotta’ Get A Gimmick”, “Let Me Entertain You”, “Roses Turn”

Hits include well, all of it except maybe “Mr. Goldstone, I Love You”, “Little Lamb”, “Madame Rose’s Toreadorables”. One of the truly great scores. And by the way, rumors persist that Sondheim, composed the music as well as the lyrics for “Rose’s Turn,” though I believe he says it’s not true, that he did sketch it out in a work session with Robbins, and then brought it to Styne to really compose it. Doesn’t matter, it’s a great piece.


As always, feel free to ignore or skip my opinions and rating.  And if you do, well, you can just go bump it with a trumpet.

The show uses placards at the start of various scenes to let us know where we are. Something like this:

This approach is borrowed from both Vaudeville, where Rose and her girls start their “careers”, and from Brechtian theater, intended to remind the audience at all times that they are watching a work of theater. Using this approach would allow you to design partial sets, cutaways and suggestions in lieu of full and expensive sets. Partial cutaway sets can be more easily and quickly flown or pulled on and off, to facilitate the rapid changes in scene the show requires. They’re also cheaper, and will help make this show workable for smaller theaters and stages.

To the show itself. This is a spiritually violent show. Rose does terrible things, and is an unrepentant thief and user throughout. She even steals from her own father! It’s hard to build a likeable show around a manifestly unlikeable character. So something about Rose must be redeemable, or at least admirable. I’ve read many reviews of different productions of this show, and thought about it a bit. I do believe that Madame Rose must somehow come across as a force of nature, that we must somehow admire her relentless drive, even when people are damaged by it. We must look at her and wish that we had faith in ourselves to the degree that she believes in herself. We can shake our head, reject what she does, but if we also reject her, the show will fail, despite all the glorious songs and really strong dialogue and structure.

There are other issues in this show. The girls and Rose and Herbie all must age. The girls take a jump from childhood to young adulthood, and at that moment are replaced with other actresses. Same thing for the young Newsboys. But Rose and Herbie must age before our eyes. She may be a force of nature, but she’s one temporarily using an ordinary human body. She eats junk food and gets no sleep, and she worries endlessly. She can endure, of course, and she does – but there should be a price paid.

One important thing to understand about Laurent’s really interesting book for this show is that not only is it based on a true story about real (and famous) people, but a real effort has been made to provide them human edges and dimensions, human responses unique to each character, real character development. The effort has been made, though I’m not saying it is a 100% successful effort. Still, these characters are more complete and fleshed out by far than one finds in most musicals. Their dialogue often sounds like real life, informed by real desperation, anger, and disappointment. Gypsy is not a happy show with a happy ending, but it is a reasonably honest show, and that is unquestionably one of its strengths.

MY RATING: ** (An excellent show, well worth considering)



The songs are edgy, rhythmic, sometimes propulsive and jagged. There is a ton of energy in this score. That said, I don’t think most of it is hard top learn, to play, or to teach. Styne writes just about unerringly melodic songs, easy to remember, hard to forget. This was Styne’s best score. The orchestrations are rich, but I don’t think they’re that hard to execute, at least, not for decent musicians. Ranges are not that big, and the songs are very singable. All in all, strangely enough, not that daunting a task, considering this is one of the most dynamic scores ever written. Also, oddly, there aren’t that many singing roles in the show, and outside of Rose, the vocal demands are truly modest.

Rose – Massive, huge voice, with a fantastic belt required. Alto, endless breath control and vitality. This role needs a real and powerhouse singer.

Louise – Soprano with a bit of a real belt in mid-register. Must sing well.

June - Soprano-ish with a belt.

Herbie – Baritone, mostly a speaking role. Does sing the two happy-getting-together songs, but really dopes not need to be a singer.

Tulsa – Lyric baritone with a young 20s clarity and vitality, pleasant voice.

Tessie, Mazeppa, Electra – The three strippers. Entirely character singing, all altos pretty much with some upper range. You’ll want actresses with the right look who can move, and who sing enough to have fun with the number.

Baby June – Youthful belt required.

Baby Louise – Sort of a belt required, though she’s not as gifted as her sister.

The Newsboys – Young boys, ages 8-12 or so, who sing and dance well enough.

The Hollywood Blondes – Young girls, ages 13-18 or so, who sing and dance well enough.

Others – There isn’t any real ensemble singing in this musical play. Almost everyone else can focus on acting and a look.


There’s a fair amount of dance in Gypsy, as can be verified by the fact that Jerome Robbins, one of the greatest of all choreographers, chose to do the movement as well as direct. The numbers that require a Choreographer include “May We Entertain You”, “Mr. Goldstone, I Love You”,“If Momma Was Married”, “All I Need Is The Girl”, “Madame Rose’s Toreadorables”, “Together, Wherever We Go”, “You Gotta’ Get A Gimmick”, and “Let Me Entertain You”. That’s a large percentage of the score.

The “on-stage” movement, the “acts” performed by the daughters and their unfortunate collaborators, should look as if staged by Rose. They should be trite but rigorous, uncreative overall but “professional” in execution. These include “May We Entertain You”, and “Toreadorables”. They’re just not very good acts. It takes a really fine choreographer to create a number beneath the ability level of the people in a show that is believable.

The “real life” numbers, such as “If Momma Was Married”, “Together”, and “Mr Goldstone” need to use real props and ideas and movements for the situations and characters. They should be fun., driven by Rose, and believable, but that does not mean they should not be staged, be under-staged, or be “real”. If you’re going to use signage to introduce scenes, then the audience is going to be endlessly reminded that they are watching a show, again, in the Brechtian tradition. I’d take that farther, I think. I’d provide the backstage numbers a real staging, a feel that is almost presentational rather than representational. It’s a musical. I even believe that being reminded of this fact during numbers featuring Rose, so long as we don’t break the 4rth wall of get ridiculous, could help the audience accept her. Look at her! She’s entertaining! She can perform and do what she’s asking her kids to do!

The approach to choreography should be discussed well in advance, and agreed upon by Director and Choreographer. But do know that Rose and Herbie are not going to be cast with dance in mind. Louise, Baby Louise and Baby June can all be cast for movement, as can the Newsboys and Blonds. But none of them except possibly Louise should be all that good at it.

You might play with the idea that one of the Newsboys, perhaps Tulsa, is pretty good, better than June, outshining her in the act, which would drive Rose nuts. Also, if Louise actually tries to shine, to be wonderful, her mother would shut her down,. Push her back – it’s June’s act.

A choreographer for Gypsy should be comfortable with tap, and theater styles from the 20s and 30s.


Rose – A titanic role, the whole show, really. An actress in her 40s-50s with ridiculous energy, an outsized and determined personality, charisma to spare. We must like her in spite of the awful things she will do. So we’d best like the actress. Her emotional range must be very large, from fury that turns on instantly, to desperation, to affection (limited), to an endless drive to succeed that informs the entire play, she must access these things and more easily and broadly. Acting and singing go hand in hand with this role, movement is not very important, though it would be helpful if she’s comfortable with some movement.

Louise – 20s. The adult version must be attractive, shapely. It’s a must. The character is hesitant, angry, but all the anger is pushed down inside, until it finally blows up and she gives her mother hell. But she has caught the success bug from her mother, loves showbiz, and discovers her own way in. Deeply resentful of her mother’s placing her always in second position. A fine actress, attractive, who can do some singing and is comfortable with movement.

Herbie – About Rose’s age, maybe a touch older. A calm, gentle, loving man who tries to be the hard agent of success Rose so needs. Remarkably patient, he does see and disapprove of Rose’s treatment of others, including of her own children. He longs, he yearns to be married, domestic, with Rose. It is an ache for him. Why Rose? There’s something about her he hasn’t got, perhaps her drive, and she, in that way, “completes” him. There must be something about her that he loves and admires, because he sure goers through a lot of crap for her.

June – Late teens-20s, blond, attractive, a fair ringer for June Havoc. Not as driven as her mother or sister, she longs to escape the life Rose has made for them all. Cast for a look, acting, then singing and dancing, as she must do all of the above.

Tulsa – Late teens-20s. Energetic, more creative than the other boys, and more determined. Likeable, but driven in ways and blind in ways not unlike Rose, which is perhaps why both girls fall for him.

Tessie, Mazeppa, Electra – The three strippers. (I love that phrase, and where else do I get to use it?) They should be different looking from each other. They can be of varying ages, from 20s-60s. Jaded, experienced, aware of the ways of the business and the world, survivors who have found an approach to elongate their time in showbiz. Cast for a look, voice and dance, and some acting. Give them different accents, not all dumb New York. Make one Russian, maybe, another from the South. Get creative with these characters who are already little more than stereotypes.

Baby June - A little girl, age 7-9 or so, who looks like June Havoc at that age, and can sing, dance, and look relatively comfortable while doing it – even though she hates it. Cast for voice, dance, and acting, as well as the look.

Baby Louise – Should look like a young Louise, of course. Does not perform “on stage’ well. Needs a strong actor, fair singer and actress.

The Newsboys – Singing, dancing, ages 8-12 or so. Different types, go multi-racial, why not?

The Hollywood Blondes – Singing, dancing, some acting, ages 13-17 or so, different types. Maybe an awkward one, a gorgeous one, a quiet one. Allow the actresses to develop their own ideas, and use them creatively.

Pop – Rose’s dad, 60s, tired, worn, weary of her and distrustful, disappointed by life.

Others – Showbiz types you’d find backstage. Tough guys and harried guys, trying to ruin theaters. Some are officious, some are kind when they can affords to be. Some smoke, some don’t. All are overworked and underpaid. Some like the women too much, others look over the boys. That’s real life. Cast for a look and acting. Various ages and types.


I would go the cutaway and partial sets route described above, and allow the placards to do a lot of your work for you. The theatres that they perform in, even at the end when Gypsy is a success, are tawdry, old, damp, moldy. Rooms are painted in cheap colors, and the paint’s coming off the walls. There should almost never be a vision that makes the audience believe that “showbiz” is glamorous in Vaudeville and Burlesque.

There are thousands of photos, and some film, of these kinds of shows, from the period. I do recommend a study of them. It might be almost funny, however, if as they go from theatre to theatre, town to town, the changes are miniscule. Move a part of a wall, turn a wall around so it has a different color. Move a painting to reveal a hole, or chipped paint, and flip the painting so it’s a mirror, elsewhere on a wall. Small, cosmetic changes, the rare structural variation, so we really get the idea that, despite the placards, this is all the same town, the same miserable theatre and life. And the audience should be let in on the joke, by showing them the very small changes being made. This, too, fits into Brecht’s approach, and feels “vaudeville” in its humor.

Then there’s “on stage”, backed by a red drape, usually. (The drape could be flown in as needed, and it might always be the same drape, or drapes with very slight variations.) A runway would be great, extended out into the front row or two, so Louise can do her strip right in their laps, and Rose can do her “Turn” confronting them with fury, making the audience very uncomfortable as she should. A mom, an older woman who has lived a hard life “strutting her stuff” is embarrassing, after all. But you can use an apron for this, or if in the round, an area near the audience.

This show does not need massive or tough sets, and in fact, I think they will damage the flow of the show. It needs a rapidly changing sense that nothing ever changes, accented and defined by placards that come to mean almost nothing. This is a creative assignment, but it does not need to be a financial pit, or a creative brain drain.


This show needs a lot of costumes, and all of them right for the period represented first by Vaudeville, then by Burlesque. And almost all of the costumes used by the leads should smack of poverty, be distressed and repeatedly repaired. That said, Louise becomes skillful at building costumes, and they improve as she ages. The “act” oriented costumes should be able to be easily danced in, and overall, they should be ghastly and get worse as the show progresses, culminating is horrid “Toreadorable” costumes. The kid acts can be fun, and just a touch creative in costuming, but they do need to reflect Rose’s limited pool of ideas. And yet, be good enough to get them jobs.

And they’ll need tap shoes.

There are a lot of specialty costumes indicated for this show. All the acts need them, including the strippers, whose costumes are each built around their “gimmick.” And even those costumes should be period-correct for Burlesque, if possible. And tawdry. Electra’s costume must light up in strategic places as she determines, but I’d keep it simple as the science was simple. Tessie should be a glitzy but “refined” version of cheap and tacky.

When you costume Gypsy as an adult, her costuming should be the very height of discreet fashion, and yet suggestive enough that we want to see more. Some thought and artistry will need to go into her costuming.

Rose probably wears an article of clothing until it is shredded and falling off her back, and yet makes an effort to look presentable. In her mind, she is a star. And since one of the strippers and Louise both see her as a once-was hot item, her clothes must somehow help create that idea. And of course, she’s going to sing a lot, so make sure she can. Also, she sacrifices herself for her girls, so they could be better dressed generally than she is.

And you’ll need a two-man cow costume…


Egg rolls. Props for the acts, as determined by the Choreographer. A trumpet for Mazeppa. Herbie’s candy. Farm stuff for the Farmboys, newspapers for the Newsboys. Cheap suitcases from the period. Take-out boxes from Chinese restaurants. Silverware for Rose to steal. A gold plaque for her father, for Rose to steal. Could be a lot of props. Work closely with the director.


This is a musical, a lot of it takes place in shows within the show. The “numbers” meant to be on stage should be lit as if if the 20s and 30s, in a cheap theatre. Follow spots will work for these, but then you cannot use them in the “real life” numbers without confusing the audience to some extent, and without violating the lighting motif that should help keep these two worlds separated. If the characters “live on stage,” then there’s nothing left for them to accomplish. The “on stage” stuff should feel like arriving at the promised land, even when the numbers performed are terrible. This is the dream Rose really dreams – stardom. And when you light her in her final number, her “Turn,” pull out every stop. She IS “on stage” in her mind, she has transitioned to being the biggest star, and it’s real for her, so make it real for the audience… or not. Change nothing. In her delusional world, there are lights and applause. But in the world the rest of us live in, she’s in a dark, drab theatre, perhaps with only a work light on, a single bulb on a stand, exposed, shining through the dark and throwing great shadows, just as Rose’s lie does. Let her prance through the dark, singing at the empty shadows of an empty theatre. It could be very haunting if your star will go for it. Some will, some won’t. Then, when Louise steps on, she could flip the lights on, and the final scene would be illuminated.

I think productions of this show are likely to have a complex lighting plot and a lot of cues. There will be cues within numbers, both “on-stage” and “real life” numbers, and lots of scene changes calling for blackouts and transitions. You’re going to be busy.


There are two world – the “on-stage” and the “real life” world to be considered. On stage is bright, made-up, it’s where these people care about their appearance. In real life, they have no money, and so their make-up options are limited to pinched cheeks. If you can help differentiate these world, great.

Blond wigs for the Hollywood blondes. Quickly applicable “stage make-up” for acts, sometimes applied in front of the audience, and by the actor himself.

KEY PERSONNEL (The ones you MUST get right.):

Director, Music Director, Choreographer, Set Designer, Light Designer, Costume Designer, Rose, Louise.


Gypsy is a historic and great show. It is not beloved to the extent that My Fair Lady is, or Guys & Dolls, but it has a legion of fans. It will be revived endlessly, so long as there are great female stars of an age, who want the challenge of a lifetime, and whose names can fill the seats. BUT, as we move further in time away from Vaudeville and Burlesque, the meaning of this show and even the frame of reference it exists in will become foreign to the audience, an unknown and unexplainable thing. The Burlesque aspects will always be more easily grasped by the audience as they have a relation to porn. But Vaudeville is dead, and has been for a very long time. No one today really remembers Vaudeville well, and its last survivors are passing away.

So why is their quest for Vaudeville stardom more legitimate than Burlesque? After all, we see lots of Vaudeville theatres and characters in this musical, and they all look shoddy. We can only assume when we see scantily-clad females backstage at the Burlesque House that such titillation is unacceptable, beneath Rose’s standards, or at least less acceptable than the silly acts and wretched life-style of Vaudeville. And in fact, your production will need to make exactly that clear. Or the show really loses context and meaning.

In the end, the audience can easily understand a person’s quest for fame, fortune, and stardom. Today, we see more of that sort of thing than ever, with lots of TV shows showing wanna-be singers and other talent competing to be stars. We’ll get that today. Today, Baby June would appear on The Voice, while her mom whispered from backstage for her to “sing out.”