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DAILY DOSE OF DELIGHT #13 (From GYPSY)

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Can we please, please, please stop this "Mama Rose" nonsense. No where in the musical (play or movie) is the character referred to as "Mama Rose". She is "Mama", "Rose", and "Madame Rose" but never ever "Mama Rose".

Can we also please stop the bashing of Ethel Merman and Jule Styne. Laurents did NOT decide to center the musical on Gypsy. Merman was signed first so the musical had to be about her character since she was the biggest musical star on Broadway -- only Mary Martin came close. Merman gave a titanic performance as Rose -- strong, sexy, vulnerable and nasty. And Jule Styne provided a brilliant, characterful score. Not knocking Sondheim, but at the time he was by far the least known and least important of the creators.

The film is not more open than the musical; in fact it is generally softened especially in Russell's kinder, gentler Rose. Changes in the scene shown here expose the difference in frankness and attitude -- Uncle Jocko on stage is not Herbie, but a separate character. The reason for the balloon girl being favorite is because Jocko wants to bed her older sister and he says so in some quite crude references. The dialogue in the scene is also emblematic of the problem with the film: it run about twice as long as it does on stage because there is much more dialogue, none of which does anything but repeat the point of Rose's control freak nature.

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29 minutes ago, MotherofZeus said:

I actually think Rosalind Russell plays the part of Rose amazingly contrary to others' thoughts. We feel her utter need for the spotlight at the expense of her children.

A friend of mine, who had only seen the film Gypsy, was surprised when he saw another version (probably Bette Midler's) and said "I thought we were supposed to like her."  Rosalind Russell's Rose is certainly more sympathetic than other interpretations.  We feel joy and a sense of adventure, not just the struggle, of making it in show business.  I have heard from people who saw Merman (I didn't) that it was an unforgettable experience.  Not only did her loud and brassy voice fit the personality, but she brought out Rose's monstrous side.  My first Rose was Angela Lansbury, and she added an hint of mental illness in her inability to recognize the difference between imagination and reality.

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3 minutes ago, Jim K said:

A friend of mine, who had only seen the film Gypsy, was surprised when he saw another version (probably Bette Midler's) and said "I thought we were supposed to like her."  Rosalind Russell's Rose is certainly more sympathetic than other interpretations.  We feel joy and a sense of adventure, not just the struggle, of making it in show business.  I have heard from people who saw Merman (I didn't) that it was an unforgettable experience.  Not only did her loud and brassy voice fit the personality, but she brought out Rose's monstrous side.  My first Rose was Angela Lansbury, and she added an hint of mental illness in her inability to recognize the difference between imagination and reality.

Very interesting.  I was actually wondering if LeRoy gave any directions to Russell having worked with Ethel Gumm. If so, Russell tempers her well, as you say. 

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  1. This scene is about auditioning for a vaudeville show. Many of the musicals at the beginning included the same sort of scene. The audition is abruptly interrupted by Mama Rose who is a brash, assertive, and overly confident. Female roles up to this point portrayed more demure women, even if they were independent. Mama Rose is the exact opposite. 
  2. The first thing you notice about Russell is her voice. She clearly knows how to project and command attention. She is also demonstrative and always keeps her body open to the camera. All this creates space for her to share but also take up. In this way, Mama Rose establishes herself as an alpha female. 
  3. The lyrics are commanding and coming from a child’s mouth, become strangely suggestive. The song could easily be translated into a burlesque number. The choreography is cute and hokey, which serves as a contrast to the words being sung.

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17 minutes ago, BartG said:

Can we please, please, please stop this "Mama Rose" nonsense. No where in the musical (play or movie) is the character referred to as "Mama Rose". She is "Mama", "Rose", and "Madame Rose" but never ever "Mama Rose".

Can we also please stop the bashing of Ethel Merman and Jule Styne. Laurents did NOT decide to center the musical on Gypsy. Merman was signed first so the musical had to be about her character since she was the biggest musical star on Broadway

We can, but we don't have to.  I'm glad to learn from the knowledge you have on the subject and thank you for helping broaden my understanding.  You seem to come from a very rigid expectation of authorial intent, which I respect. I often do the same, and I always want to know about it.  I also think what audiences take from a play/script/text, is equally relevant intended or not. I feel Ethel Merman was not as enjoyable as Russell, and that doesn't make me awful or ignorant. She was an incredible singer, but I don't find her relatable. It is clear LeRoy has it in mind that Mama should be hideous, but we also recognize some human qualities that are understandable.  As you indicate, this was not what the original play intends. I will do my best to address the original and the movie as separate to account for the good points you make. 

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I too wanted to see the balloon pop Joyce.  But had not thought about it as a look into the future of Gypsy Rose Lee!  

As far as the Disruptive Era- a disruptive stage mom, running everything. 

I also thought of vaudeville and looking back to the Broadway stage.  Loved the orchestra pit.  Nothing like we experience today.  We only see this in "High School" or community productions of the Musicals of this era.  Students and community members experiencing the early Musicals covered in this course. 

I know very little about Rosalind Russel the actress. But the part she is playing is disruption to the maximum.  I never thought about the idea that the way she is dressed is not what we should be seeing from a "mom" of this time period. Only her child is to be noticed and everyone else is destroyed.   Equal to the idea of a Musical of the past is destroyed by the musicals of the 60's and beyond. 

The staging of the song in the clip encompasses a male figure (the older sister dressed in boys clothes, the dainty little girl (will become a provocative woman, and finally the mother, (one who gave birth to both). One who tries to "sell the talents" of both.  

As I write this, I am wondering what will happen to other children in the back waiting for an audition.  Do we learn as the movie goes on? 

 

 

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We see a nod back to the classic musicals in the importance of vaudeville as setting, the struggle to make a name for oneself, and the beginning of the story with childhood.  I believe that this clip also foreshadows the breakdown in respect for perceived authority, the willingness to work outside the normal channels.  Mamma is getting around the "fixed" outcome of the talent contest by sheer determination and daring to challenge the system.

The entrance of Roz Russell as Mama here is abrupt and uncompromising.  She selfishly takes center stage and upstages her own children.  You can tell her ambition is not for them, but for herself!  The worst of the stage mothers.

The lyrics here are taken more innocently since they are sung by a child.  However, the "let me entertain you" sounds more like a plea to her mother to get out of the way after that entrance.  

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It show the way things are on the stage, yet it also shows how it is in real life.

Mama Rose just barges on to the stage and takes over.  Telling the conductor what to play and how the lights should be placed on Baby June.  She is not a typical stage mother.

The lyrics have a double meaning in that they are trying to get the attention on them rather than on anything else but they are also trying to convey the note that they will entertain them.

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Rosalind Russell and Karl Malden are actors playing characters who are actors.  I would love to have known what the real Gypsy Rose Lee thought about this movie- did it capture the vaudevillian atmosphere of her youth and the burlesque of her adult career?

I also wonder if she liked Rosalind Russell's portrayal of her mother.  I really enjoy this film and after seeing it multiple times, I always come away with a little bit different view of Rose- was she the selfish stage mother living vicariously through her kids, or did she really have a vision for their careers and her obnoxious dominance was well intentioned?  I have ambivalence about Rose and I wonder if Gypsy Rose Lee did also. Anyways, I think Rosalind Russell played her that way intentionally.

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In what ways does this scene look backwards to classical musicals and how does it look ahead to new disruptions that we now know will happen in the movie musical? The staging of the scene is reminiscent of classical musicals, but what happens in the scene is totally disruptive. While the girls are performing, other actors are speaking lines and distracting from their song and dance. This is something that does not happen in a traditional musical.

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1. As with many of the classic movie musicals in previous eras, Gypsy has a very heavy backstage element, as it is more about what happens in the lives of the performers behind the scenes, rather than the action on the stage. The scene is set during the days of vaudeville, from which many of the early movie musical actors originated and honed their skills, and whose songs created the scores for many of the first musical films. However, the scene itself could be interpreted as a metaphor for the coming disruptions occurring in Hollywood and its studio system at the time the film version of Gypsy was made. When Uncle Jocko refuses to go along with his manager's insistence that he choose the balloon girl over the other children auditioning for his show, he is rebelling against an industry structure based on pre-selected stars and longstanding contractual obligations between performers and corporate entities. He is basing his decisions purely on talent and merit, and is willing to go it alone and produce his own act in order to have the creative freedom he seeks. This is reflective in the increasing number of independent studios looking to challenge the Big 5 studio system and attracting their own new talent, the performers who were starting to push for free agency, and the burgeoning desire of filmmakers to become increasingly experimental with the medium as the 1960s progressed.

2. Having begun her career as a Broadway performer, it's no surprise that Russell's presence on screen seems larger than life. She immediately enters the scene and pulls all focus towards herself - much to the dismay of Uncle Jocko and the theatre manager - despite her "intended" goal being to put her kids in the spotlight. Her voice and the way she carries herself is bold and commanding, with grandiose gesturing and a brash speaking (and singing) voice that could carry up to the rafters of any theatre. While this brand of performance most certainly suits a character such as Mama Rose, I must say it's a habit I've noticed befalls many a Broadway musical performer who transitions to film (see: Anthony Rapp in "Rent" ... I love him, but I swear, during his rendition of "Tango Maureen" in the film version, I thought he was going to pull a muscle ... when you've been playing a character to the back row of the Nederlander Theatre for years, it's hard to tone it down for film audiences).

3. I get that technically we're not supposed to know how the song and its purpose evolves throughout the course of the film - even though we know that one of the central characters is a stripper-to-be - I still can't help but get a slightly icky feeling of exploitation from hearing Baby June and Louise sing it for Uncle Jocko. The song is framed innocently enough - the kids are literally doing kicks and tricks - but the underlying message of the song is this idea that the performer will do anything - and they mean anything - to earn their audience's love and attention. This sly suggestiveness early on in the film - and the fact that a movie centreing on the life of a famous stripper is even being allowed to be made as a major Hollywood musical - once again points at the changing attitudes within the industry at this point in time, as the Hays Code is increasingly being challenged by more risque subject matter.

 

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In what ways does this scene look backward to classical musicals and how does it look ahead to new disruptions that we now know will happen in the movie musical?

Like early musicals, Gypsy gives us a look at the backstage moments of show business. But rather than the technical aspects, we see the gritty, less than pretty realities of trying to get ahead in the business: an audition that may just be a sham because the winner has been decided ahead of time, Karl Malden as a man with no real power in his position, overbearing stage mothers...

This is the introduction of Mama Rose in the film. Comment on Rosalind Russell’s entrance and performance especially as a traditionally trained stage and film actress.

Russell's Rose enters like a bull in a china shop. She has an agenda, and no one is going to get in her way. For me, this is classic Rosalind Russell. It seems that almost any character I have seen her play is a strong, forceful woman. In this scene, she commanded attention from one side of the stage to the other.

Pay attention to the song “Let Me Entertain You” in this scene. Is there anything you notice in Sondheim’s lyrics that are sly, subversive, or edgy? You can also discuss the song’s performance and staging as disruptive (or not).

With all the grownups talking over the performance, I couldn't really understand the lyrics, so I looked them up online. I read that the lyrics were changed from the Broadway production from "may we" to "let me," and that originally Louise as "Gypsy" was the one to sing "let me." Not sure if any other lyrics were changed, but it is definitely a suggestive song and not one you'd want to hear a 6yo sing. The whole pushing of children into show business and what we've since learned often happened as a result would be quite disruptive. I found the scene to be jarring and difficult to watch; I wasn't able to focus with so much going on at once.

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1.  The scene both looks back in that the actors are wearing glamorous costumes, the dutch theme for the boy and girl and the balloon girl.  Both are examples if the older style of musicals in that they are showy and over the top.  The scene also looks forward in showing the competition theme between acts that will become a theme in later musicals.  "Fame" and the "I gotta get it" song/scene is an example of this.

2.  Rosalind Russell bursts onto the scene with her entrance from the rear of the theater through the seats.  She projects her voice and gestures as a stage performer would.

3.  The songs title and main line if "Let me entertain you" can be taken with the innocence that the young girl is singing it with.  It can also be construed ad something more adult with the same line being misinterpreted. 

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In what ways does this scene look backwards to classical musicals and how does it look ahead to new disruptions that we now know will happen in the movie musical?

The vaudeville touch this clip shows definitely brings the viewer back in time until the modern day woman, Mama Rose, takes the lead. It feels very slapstick, screwball, variety as we watch the characters define their roles. There’s a little bit of everything in the costume department line up behind the action on stage. Almost circus like. Russell’s role is completely out of place in this scene hence the disruption of what classic musicals theme were.  Her persona is exact opposite of the surroundings. Her wardrobe so different from all others, grandiose, modern day Hollywood animal print etc. a blend of old and new is how I viewed this clip, musically, culturally, and with the lovely, talented, amazing Rosalind Russell leading the pack.

This is the introduction of Mama Rose in the film. Comment on Rosalind Russell’s entrance and performance especially as a traditionally trained stage and film actress.

Russell’s performance is theatrical and well pronounced. She is the epitome of well versed talent in stage/film. She doesn’t miss a take and it shows. Truly a delight and masterful presentation. A troublemaker to boot....

Pay attention to the song “Let Me Entertain You” in this scene. Is there anything you notice in Sondheim’s lyrics that are sly, subversive, or edgy? You can also discuss the song’s performance and staging as disruptive (or not).

Close attention is right. Although some may see “Let Me Entertain You” as edgy/even suductive, with Mama Rose at  center stage it really plays down any hidden meaning in my opinion. For me, the song really points once again to Russell. Her idea of entertainment is not so much exploiting her darling girls, as much as Mama Rose is self-centered/absorbed, even blinders that she has children. She certainly seems to treat them as her creation therefore at her disposal. Wood declares this with not even having an identity... what mama thinks is best. Her children have absolutely no identity. Baby June is the puppet while the other sucks her thumb and flounders behind her sister. This scene is very disruptive to classic musicals. It has a lot more storyline, realism, and dysfunction displayed. I believe this film begins to uncover humanity’s frailty and fallibility in an unprecedented way.

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In what ways does this scene look backwards to classical musicals and how does it look ahead to new disruptions that we now know will happen in the movie musical?

It’s the old backstage story -at first. Immediately however, the road to success is paved not only with indifference, but with politics and corruption. We see the seedy side of the business right up front. Talent and luck and spunk will not be enough. It will take a force of nature to succeed - these kids are lost until Momma comes in.

 

This is the introduction of Mama Rose in the film. Comment on Rosalind Russell’s entrance and performance especially as a traditionally trained stage and film actress.

BIG entrance - all attention shifts from the stage to the cyclone walking down the aisle. The patter perfected in all of those screwball comedies of the 30’s and 40’s is brought to the front, loaded and discharged squarely at anyone that gets in her way. She mows down all comers with a tsunami of dialogue and sheer maternal energy. She uses the dog to make points and direct the performance and as a distraction to keep the men off guard. She is constantly moving, throwing her purse around, even dancing a few encouraging steps next to the girls.  And the big hat pin aimed at the balloon girl is the last menacing straw. A riveting tour-de-force. We know who this woman is right from the first 5 minutes.

 

Pay attention to the song “Let Me Entertain You” in this scene. Is there anything you notice in Sondheim’s lyrics that are sly, subversive, or edgy? You can also discuss the song’s performance and staging as disruptive (or not).

The meaning of the song is in the performance and the ear of the audience. It is played by kids that grow up before your eyes. It is innocent enough at first, but it becomes silly and maybe a bit twisted by today’s standards for adolescents and finally something completely different for adults. The song is a shape shifter and it’s delivery at different periods in the movie underscores the story perfectly.

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I'm not particularly fond of this movie, but I've seen it a couple of times. I think Rosalind Russell is absolutely marvelous as Mama Rose, but I think she's kind of mean to Louise. She's exactly what we think of as a typical stage mother--highlighting one child over the other based on perceived talent. And pushy? You bet! But she, unlike many stage mothers, has a heart of gold, and really does want the best for her daughter, not just the revenue she can generate.

To me, this movie is a hybrid between the older, typical musicals and those coming up in the 1960s that deal with current events, such as civil rights (Finnegan's Rainbow, which I personally like) and the Vietnam War (Hair). It uses the typical behind-the-curtain story line that many of the previous musicals used; however, it deals with an edgier topic than those predecessors did--burlesque and strippers.

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1.  In what ways does this scene look backwards to classical musicals and how does it look ahead to new disruptions that we now know will happen in the movie musical?
 

     The scene looks very similar to the backstage musicals like THE BROADWAY MELODY and SINGIN” IN THE RAIN, as it shows scenes taking place either onstage during auditions or rehearsals where anything can happen as opposed to where everything is prepared and scripted when the show is on in front of an audience. These scenes show the reality of show business and how it reflects the same downsides and disadvantages in all other aspects of reality. The scene looks very different in comparison to the oncoming “new wave” musicals like A HARD DAY’S NIGHT and VIVA LAS VEGAS. GYPSY, like WEST SIDE STORY, THE MUSIC MAN, MY FAIR LADY and THE SOUND OF MUSIC are among the last of the traditional studio-era musicals that have their last big hurrah at the end of the 1960s with OLIVER and FUNNY GIRL before movie musicals more or less become a dead film genre.

 

2.  This is the introduction of Mama Rose in the film. Comment on Rosalind Russell’s entrance and performance especially as a traditionally trained stage and film actress.
 

     I first saw GYPSY back in 1997 (I had heard about this film from my mom for years as she has always been a fan of Rosalind Russell and Natalie Wood. So when I got home from school during finals week in my junior year of high school I sat down and watched the VHS my sister had just bought of the film). My first impression was that this was a terrific, traditional type musical with plenty of great music from Styne and Sondheim and the performance of both Natalie Wood and Karl Malden are easily among the ten best of their careers but the real highlight of the cast is naturally Rosalind Russell as Rose. She makes the kind of entrance that makes the entire audience take immediate notice. She’s tall, elegantly dressed and has an overall presence that almost commands attention. This is not only applicable to Russell but also to the character of Rose. 

 

3.  Pay attention to the song “Let Me Entertain You” in this scene. Is there anything you notice in Sondheim’s lyrics that are sly, subversive, or edgy? You can also discuss the song’s performance and staging as disruptive (or not).

    I see the song in this scene as exploitive of Louise and June. It naturally puts you in mind of an upbeat, happy feeling, but once Rose comes on stage and takes over practically everyone else in the scene, you sense the underlying manipulation, which rapidly becomes more and more obvious as the scene progresses as well at the complete story. Rose is the kind of personality that dominates everyone, even her daughters when they’re on stage. She obviously had that “greasepaint-in-her-veins” personality that ate, slept and dreamed show business (I lost track of how many times throughout the film where she says she’s had another dream for the act). This dreaming and Rose’s overwhelming personality ultimately underscores the denial-ridden obsession she has of keeping her girls young and constantly in the act until they’re both old and gray just so Rose can live out the dream she never had the nerve to live out on her own.

 

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In what ways does this scene look backward to classical musicals and how does it look ahead to new disruptions that we now know will happen in the movie musical?

The film has the lush cinematography, sets, and costumes of the classic era.  To me the grittier elements (edgy lyrics, disruptive characters) not only look forward but hearken back to a pre-code era of musicals like Applause (1929) and 42nd St. (1933).

This is the introduction of Mama Rose in the film. Comment on Rosalind Russell’s entrance and performance especially as a traditionally trained stage and film actress.

Mama Rose's entrance from the back of the theatre is surprising and effective both on film and on stage; I think it works even better on stage, when at first all we experience is the tone and nervy words of that prototypical stage mother.  Rosalind Russell's entrance is effective in terms of self-confidence and "taking over" the situation, although she comes off as a bit too polished for this uneducated (but mightily single-minded) woman.

Pay attention to the song “Let Me Entertain You” in this scene. Is there anything you notice in Sondheim’s lyrics that are sly, subversive, or edgy? You can also discuss the song’s performance and staging as disruptive (or not).

As mentioned, the "and if you're real good, I'll make you feel good" is pretty easy to take from innocent to provocative.  The number as staged certainly establishes that June is the polished performer and the center of their mother's dream of stardom (even if vicariously through her daughter) and that Louise is there because she's an available person around to help with this.

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It was really interesting to read the reactions to this scene. I don't usually read other posts before doing my own, but I did today because I have a problematic relationship with Rosalind Russell. When I was younger, she scared me (not just in this film), And so many decades later, she still does.  Of course, this role is kind of perfect because Mama Rose is truly scary as she fiercely promotes Baby June and later pushes Louise into life as a stripper. In this scene, after reading my fellow classmates' comments, I realize that from the very start, we see her as someone too big for her world. She looms, she stalks, she talks over the music. She wears leopard skin, faux but still predatory.  She has vast energy but never really gets to use it in a worthy or satisfying way, as the final scene of the film recognizes. When she charges the stage, it is like a horror film where a creature is getting ready to devour a city. 

This scene is set up to recall the world of so many shows-within-shows and so many previous audition scenes. But the lighting and color emphasize the dinginess of the theatre, and it is sad to see  innocent children stuck in  world of pushy and vulgar adults. We see June's brave and ardent desire to deliver what is wanted and Louise's awareness that she can't do what her sister does. I want to rescue these kids, not see them triumph on opening night like Ruby Keeler or Debbie Reynolds. It's worth noting that the adult men look pretty silly, too, especially Karl Malden in his plaid suit.

"Let Me Entertain You" is used brilliantly as it shape shifts throughout the musical. The emerging double entendre has been very well covered by my fellow students. I also see a kind of pathos, too. These children and later the women performers are offering themselves to the audience, even if their talents are limited. There is a kind of bravery and gallantry that I think is deliberate on Sondheim's part.

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The beginning of the movie takes a fond look at the backstage musical and shows the hoops that performers (and their parents) will jump through to land a gig. But we also get a glimpse of disruption with the constant interfering of Mama Rose. She will do whatever it takes to make it happen for her girls, particularly since she bemoans the chance she never got to make it herself. If she can't get what she wants, she will get it vicariously through her children. If it means eliminating the competition, so be it, and out comes the hat pin.

Rosalind Russell is famous for her tough, gritty, couldn't care less what people think roles. She's attractive without being the stereotypical Hollywood beauty glamour queen. She's more what some would call handsome but not in a mannish way. She also has a flair for deadpan and facetiousness or outright sarcasm, and she uses that to perfection in Mama Rose. She takes a no holds barred approaching in her determination to get her daughters on stage, but of course the spotlight is always on June, who conversely is shown as the typical show biz beauty. Louise is more like her mother in her (or so we think) lack of beauty or talent and is always overlooked in her role as second banana. Boy, she'll show everyone later how wrong they were! 

It's interesting how the lyrics and dance numbers evolve and grow as June gets older. The first rendition is more child like and innocent but in later episodes some of the words will reflect a more mature June and the dance steps will become more complex, even picking up a taste of sensuality underneath all the ribbons, curls, Shirley Temple dresses.

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In what ways does this scene look backwards to classical musicals and how does it look ahead to new disruptions that we now know will happen in the movie musical?

Based on a popular Broadway hit (similar to The Bells are Ringing, Music Man, etc.) and typical to earlier musical numbers, this one is very proscenium-based (as are most of the numbers in this piece)—all takes place on a single set and the audience is the casual observer. In this particular scene the musical number does help to move the plot, but it is also an inserted piece. Until we see this same song used in the rest of the film, this song doesn’t have particular significance.

Unlike a lot of the earlier musicals, there are no particularly “big production” numbers with the full cast – it remains intimate.

Based on the life of Gypsy Rose Lee, it’s also a coming of age story and how she develops from the no-talented sister to a star in her own right and on her own terms.

 

This is the introduction of Mama Rose in the film. Comment on Rosalind Russell’s entrance and performance especially as a traditionally trained stage and film actress.

Mama Rose rushes into the scene in the same way she rushes in and takes over the business of handling her daughters’ careers. She charges down the theatre aisle with the now famous “Sing out, Louise!” While she is giving instructions to anyone and everyone, even passing along the dog to hold while she takes over, she also ingratiates herself with the men by saying she’s an honorary member of whatever fraternal organization to which they happen to be a member. At the same time she’s complimenting the orchestra conductor, she is also instructing him in how exactly she wants the part played. She knows what to do and what to say to get the work done.

The fact that Rosalind Russell is an accomplished stage and screen actress only helps to make what can be an obnoxious character into one that we can admire for her chutzpah. She is trying to do what is best for her children, knows what she needs to do and does her utmost to get it. We know we’re supposed to dislike her for pushing her children into show business and yet we ache for her when the children leave and don’t need her anymore.

Like her character in His Girl Friday, Russell expertly talks over the other characters and can do this without the audience losing either side of the conversation. She has a subtlety that not a lot of screen actors have: the slight arch of an eyebrow, a look. We don’t need to see her popping all of the little girl’s balloons (although we do hear one pop)—it’s her “look” and the smooth taking out of the hairpin that gives the audience all they need to know—she means business and she won’t anyone get in her way.

Pay attention to the song “Let Me Entertain You” in this scene. Is there anything you notice in Sondheim’s lyrics that are sly, subversive, or edgy? You can also discuss the song’s performance and staging as disruptive (or not).

What I love about the “Let Me Entertain You” number is how it changes in the course of the film. In this particular scene, it’s quite innocent – a little girl wants to entertain and she will dance and sing. Later, when Gypsy becomes a stripper, although the lyrics do not change essentially, it now sexually charged both by how the rhythm of the song becomes more syncopated and Natalie Wood’s more seductive performance. The lyrics “And if you’re real good, I’ll make you feel good. I want your spirits to climb…” now take on a whole new connotation.

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  1. In what ways does this scene look backwards to classical musicals and how does it look ahead to new disruptions that we now know will happen in the movie musical?  The kids start then the mother comes on the stage.  It starts with the minor then moves to the major character.
     
  2. This is the introduction of Mama Rose in the film. Comment on Rosalind Russell’s entrance and performance especially as a traditionally trained stage and film actress.  She is eccentric woman with having her kids become a star,  When she is on stage she demands it the people will listen to her and not the people who are running it.
     
  3. Pay attention to the song “Let Me Entertain You” in this scene. Is there anything you notice in Sondheim’s lyrics that are sly, subversive, or edgy? You can also discuss the song’s performance and staging as disruptive (or not).  It states what you will see from the girls, one talented the other clumsy.  It is a song made to be loud and brass like the mother.

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The scene looks back to vaudeville, with the auditioning of kids on stage which reminds me of the "Our Gang" classics.  The kids were always putting on a show in a very adult way.

Rosalind Russell just takes over the scene, very loud, very boisterous and very fast talking (which she is very good at).

The title alone is an indication of where the song will go -- "Let Me Entertain You".  When Louise and Baby Jane are auditioning, it means something innocent, but later in the movie when Gypsy Rose Lee performs it, it means something entirely different, something more adult/sexy.

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1.    In what ways does this scene look backwards to classical musicals and how does it look ahead to new disruptions that we now know will happen in the movie musical?

The scene though disruptive is solid to the plot as in the musical comedies of the 30s and 40s. Though appearing out of control and disjointed if you watch it closely it is tightly scripted and acted with everyone perfectly hitting their cues similar to the, “ketchup” kitchen scene in, “Meet Me in St. Louis” from 1944.

Yet it as well gives us a glimpse of the coming changes in film and musicals of the 60s and beyond because unlike the kitchen scene from 1944 it is not calm and genteel presenting the family as a likable whole but rather it is loud, boisterous and purposely disruptive. It presents the family of a divorced single mother married multiple times and two daughters, one favored, one not. The underlying dynamic is not family stability and cooperation as in 1944 but rather a disintegration of family and the portrayals of much more complicated and nuanced relationships.


2.    This is the introduction of Mama Rose in the film. Comment on Rosalind Russell’s entrance and performance especially as a traditionally trained stage and film actress.

Russell takes over the stage as she takes over the scene. I love how she informs Herbie that she’s an, “honorable” Elk instead of an, “honorary” Elk.  She speaks directly to those who can assist her, “babies” appear best, complimenting the orchestra leader and members and cajoling the electrician to hit her favored daughter with a spot. She loudly threatens to expose that the audition is fixed, bullies the “balloon” girl (whose mother is not present though I doubt it would matter). Then calmly thanks all involved for helping her daughters as they perform in the background .

Her voice is booming and large enough to reach the back row even though the theater is empty of an audience other than the performers, stage manager and the orchestra. Her voice and demeanor are commanding and she barely takes a breath (similar to her character in Our Gal Friday). No shy violet here. She is portraying the quintessential overbearing, “Stage Mother” whom she most likely encountered in reality more than once and playing it for all it’s worth. She knows how to block herself perfectly in the shot and uses that poor dog as a prop extraordinaire. She nails her character in this perfect performance.


3.    Pay attention to the song “Let Me Entertain You” in this scene. Is there anything you notice in Sondheim’s lyrics that are sly, subversive, or edgy? You can also discuss the song’s performance and staging as disruptive (or not).

Not in the song. I guess one could say the lyrics with words such as, “entertain you” and “kicks/tricks” could be slightly suggestive but I really don’t sense it in this scene. It’s later, when Gypsy sings a slightly altered, “Let Me Entertain You” to a striptease where the song gets more than suggestive. But in this scene I just don’t feel it. The one disruption is the entrance of Mama Rose who manages to get everyone that threatens her daughters’ success in the audition off the stage.

 

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In what ways does this scene look backwards to classical musicals and how does it look ahead to new disruptions that we now know will happen in the movie musical? 

We begin at an audition, which immediately brings the backstage musical to mind, however this audition is already rigged.  Musicals had established a veneer of wholesomeness after the code came into place.  In The Wizard of Oz, Toto pulls back the curtain to show that the wizard was a fake - and all is made right.   In Gypsy, Mama Rose threatens to pull back the curtain on the corruption in the theater but this isn't the act of an innocent exposing the wrongdoer for the benefit of all.  Mama Rose is as corrupt as anyone else in the business and willing to do anything, even exploiting her children, to get HER name in lights.  

This is the introduction of Mama Rose in the film. Comment on Rosalind Russell’s entrance and performance especially as a traditionally trained stage and film actress.

Mama Rose comes in as an unstoppable force of nature.  She will be noticed.  She storms into the the theater, her voice booming like thunder, her speech fast as lightning and for the hearing impaired, she wears loud clothing.  Everything about the character says, "Pay attention to ME!"
 

Pay attention to the song “Let Me Entertain You” in this scene. Is there anything you notice in Sondheim’s lyrics that are sly, subversive, or edgy? You can also discuss the song’s performance and staging as disruptive (or not).

Baby June sings the song innocently.  She has been taught that being cute will get her applause, so that's what she does.  Louise is the smart one, she knows the audition is rigged and slyly whispers that information to Mama Rose.  Louise then succeeds in deflecting her mother's criticism of her (Louise's) inadequate performance and turning Mama Rose into a steamroller of indignation pointed at everyone running the audition (and the hapless Balloon Girl).

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