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DAILY DOSE OF DELIGHT #13 (From GYPSY)

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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 setting is akin to the show within a show motif of early movie musicals. We get shots from the seats up to the stage and inside show biz terms and dialog, not unlike 42nd Street and Footlight Parade. Part of that is due to Gypsy being set in a similar time period to the earliest musicals. All that changes with Rose's entrance! Chaos now ensues and continues until she gets the pink spotlight on her kids, where she then turns her attention to popping "Balloon Girl" out of show business. The scene progresses with Rose ignoring the stage manager and taking control of the action. She entirely disrupts the planned--dare I say rigged--talent contest. The song is not the focus of the scene, but rather Rose behaving as an overbearing stage mother. The musical number becomes secondary to the action and to the story line.

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.

Rose's entrance could not have been more intrusive had she entered on an elephant with trumpeters following in her wake. She didn't enter the theater, she invaded it! She took over the entire scene in the same loud, overbearing manner. When you think back one year to her performance in Auntie Mame, playing a character of charm and wealth, and dressed to the nines. Now only a year later, she splay a walking tornado, wreaking havoc wherever she goes. Her experience both on the stage and in film shines through in her portrayal of the ultimate stage mother, Rose. Russell takes command of the stage when she enters and keeps control of it throughout the entire scene. Similarly, she takes charge of the screen with her brilliant performance. You don't just see a driven woman, you feel her drive cascading off the screen. Even when she is sharing the stage with others, you can't take your eyes off of her. That is star quality.

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).

Jules Styne and Stephen Sondheim, knowing they were taking a story about kids performing in vaudeville that would eventually blossom into a story about one of the most famous strippers in stage history, had a challenging task: writing a soft, pleasantly amusing song for two young girls while at the same time writing a song that became the anthem for ecdysiasts. They proved quite up to the job! The underlying music of the number can be played in a constant rhythm and sung with high-pitched voices of young children to actually come out cute and entertaining. Who wouldn't be amused and find themselves smiling at the antics of these two cute kids. Many probably have watched their own children or those of relatives performing in living rooms all over America. (See, Meet Me in St. Louis.) The same music, played slowly and erotically, is perfectly suited for burlesque. But the music only works because the brilliantly written lyrics serve as one long double entendre. Each line in the song has both an innocent interpretation and an erotic one. Absolutely brilliant!

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This is one of my favorite musicals. It's really interesting that this is considered some what disruptive at the time, because I feel like it's still very much a traditional musical. It's a backstage musical, but I think it may be considered disruptive because rather than presenting this as a glamorous profession, we see the seedier side of show business (or as seedy as you can get in 1960s Hollywood). We see the decline of show business, and the rise of burlesque theaters. I absolutely love this line from the curator's note: "What starts out as innocence in vaudeville becomes the goal of the male gaze in burlesque". It reminds me of the double entendre in the lyrics that is constantly happening in "Let Me Entertain You." The fact that Mama Rose chooses this as Gypsy's debut number when she goes into burlesque becomes somewhat creepy. So, in that sense, the fact that we are pulling back the curtain when show business is collapsing in vaudeville, as well as the portrayal of the stage mother from hell who pressures her daughter into stripping makes this a disruptive musical. 

Rosalind Russell plays Mama perfectly. In fact, I was so used to seeing her in the role that the first time I heard Ms. Merman in the role it was very jarring. I have always felt there is a subtly to Russell's performance. She is still in your face, but it isn't as loud or brash as Ms. Merman. Don't get me wrong, I adore Ms. Merman's performance as Mama. It's uniquely hers. But what I admire about Russell's portrayal is that her rendition of Mama is very much made her own. It's more along the lines of Sylvia Fowler...neurotic, pushy, always assumes she's right, and not as loud or brash as Ms. Merman. It works for her. We are swept into a whirlwind of Russel's performance. 

I just went back and watched Natalie Wood perform "Let Me Entertain You". It's amazing how Sondheim can take such simple lyrics and make them equally a children's song and burlesque song. I can't explain it, but it works for some reason. Perhaps Mama was right, all it needs is a change of tempo. Of course, the environment and performance of the lyrics greatly helps. Watching Natalie strip, taking off her outer layer of clothing as she says "make you smile" does play into the male gaze. It plays so well, that I'm always surprised to see a few females in the audience of her performances. 

My final note on this film involves the way Natalie seems to have really studied the real Gypsy's movements. I've always heard that Gypsy came onto the set and coached her. It definitely shows. There is so much sexiness, more sexiness than what I think would be shown if the film was made today. That actually brings up an interesting idea...how much more different would this film be if it were made in 2018? I myself have always preferred the "tease" in "striptease", but I wonder if that would be the way this scene would be approached today?

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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?

It starts off as your typical musical, especially where child stars are concerned. Baby Jane and Louise are dressed up, and dolled up. They are also put on a pedestal by their mother (your typical stage mom), and made to look like the center of attention, in which Mama Rose thinks they should be. Obviously, when it comes to the new disruptions, the innocence will disappear as Louise becomes Gypsy Rose Lee, burlesque performer. This is apparent when Mama Rose pops the balloon offscreen of the girl wearing the costume.

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.

Right from the start, Russell commands the scene. She is loud, larger-than-life, and overly confident. Her interaction with Karl Malden shows that she can tangle with the best of them, and will not let anyone stand in her nor her childrens' way. She is bossy, but in the kind way as she clearly wants what's best for Baby Jane and Louise. She believes that they both possess talent, and she wants to do everything she can for people to realize that.

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).

There is a double meaning to the song. In the beginning, it sounds quite innocent as Baby Jane sings it, where she wants to entertain her audience. It is playful and nonchalant. However, as we know, the song will charge into more racy territory as the grown up Louise performs it in her burlesque show, as she starts removing her clothing. It becomes a little more dangerous and darker in this case. This is how you knew that the 60's were going to be a decade of really changing times.

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1. This whole film could be an allegory for the decline of the traditional movie musical in favor of the newer, grittier fare we'll be seeing in the future. This scene showcases what would've been right at home in a 50's production; a cutesy variety show featuring a bunch of youngsters. Instead of a bright, colorful, well-choreographed spectacle, however, we see a very realistic representation of an amateur theatre setup. It's drab, uncoordinated, and very much beset by rehearsal-induced agitation. We're seeing the back stage presented as it truly is, perhaps for the first time ever on film.

2. Rosalind Russell was a phenomenal Rose. This character is supposed to be an ever-erupting volcano of charisma and stage-motherhood, and Russell's performance was exactly that and then some. Her abrupt entrance during June's (and Company's) song is designed to catch us off guard as much as the characters onscreen. She just... shows up and takes over the show. That's Mama Rose!

3. Sondheim really knew how to put meaning into his lyrics. "Let Me Entertain You" is a verbal test of one's innocence. Do the words evoke thoughts of a sensual nature? Or are they simply a request that the performer be able to do a little song and dance? It all depends on the listener's life experiences. Filtered through June's childishness, however, the viewer is almost forced to see it as nothing more than a kid's showtune. The opposite is true when it's reprised by Louise; it can't be interpreted as anything else but a burlesque number. It's a little stroke of genius, bookending the musical with the same song delivered in entirely different ways.

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1. It looks backwards to classical musicals where there are child actors auditioning when in reality this is taking the vaudeville era into brash and less-childlike move into burlesque.

2. Rosalind Russell is very good at acting being a loud mouth and interrupting as she comes in from being late. She doesn't care about any other kids except her own and say they will get the part. She is very fiery and intimidating. 

3. The song can be interpreted to be more innocent because children are performing it. So it has a fun and happy feeling to it.  

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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 starts with a familiar stage, song and dance act. The sister act is similar to 'The Broadway Melody' of 1929. One sister leads with the other sister behind her arms at the hips following the movements. This would have been the kind of vaudeville act at the time actors were transitioning into the first musical. 

The disruption begins when Mama Rose enters the studio and pushes herself up onto the stage. We did get musicals that had behind the stage activity like many of the Busby Berkeley musicals. But that was usually a setup for saving the show like in '42nd Street' or 'Footlight Parade' were actors in the wings suddenly find themselves on stage. Mama Rose has a relentless, bold and brash attack as she kicks over the apple cart to get her kids to be stars. She is selfish in her drive for her kids specifically Baby June. She does not display a spirit of team work. This is not a character that would have been showcased as an ideal fifties female.    
 

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.

Rosalind Russell always seemed to be playing females that were more aggressive. Although not aware of her training as a stage actress it does makes sense looking back at films like 'His Gal Friday'. That film was shot like a stage play with many scenes confined to one room in the building. She delivered her lines in a manner that got the audience to focus like they would if she were on a stage.

It seemed to me that she and Director of Gypsy (Mervyn LeRoy) knew what worked. She had that stature and delivery directly to the invisible audience. She belts out her lines to keep in character with this brash, loud and bossy stage mom.  She also brings some of that fast talking head to head banter that overwhelms the male character in this case Karl Malden as Herbie. 
 

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 will do some tricks' or mama will do whatever she needs to do to win this audition and get this spot. 'I'll tell you a story' or mama will follow through on her threat and blow the whistle on this rigged competition. 

As was pointed out in the lecture the lyrics went through some changes from stage to film over time. The difference in using 'may we' to 'let me' allows for a shift in the meaning of the lyric as performed at different stages in the film (yes I'm breaking the rule by jumping to Louise's (Gypsy Rose Lee) version later on).  One is speaking to the behavior of Mama Rose through the innocence of Baby June. The other is an adult version suggesting a more burlesque delivery of the original vaudeville song. I think Sondheim was the sort of artist that would have wanted to play around with the lyrics and get as much as possible out of the experience. There was nothing simple about his work. 

  

 

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1. Because Gypsy was based on the Broadway show I guess you can say it’s old Hollywood musical except for one major thing: this is about Gypsy Rose Lee - this is the evolution of a stripper! I guess you would call this disruptive except I don’t go along with that term to me its more about the new radicalism of cinema!

2. Russell’s bravado bombastic entrance as Mama Rose tells you who this musical is really about. She’s the major player! She’s Auntie Mame on steroids! I, for one, love her! What a treasure. (Although it would have been cool to see Merman - we had the original broadwat cast album].

3. Let Me Entertain You hints at what’s to come through the Shirley Temple delivery of Baby June! It’s almost leering at the audience in what it portends.

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1. The setting starts out as a typical theater musical of the 1930s. But it has a seedier, rundown quality than those films.  

2. Rosalind Russell as a season performer, totally steals the show once she enters the stage. All focus is on her, not  her children. Of course she know it but keeps up the pretense that her daughter is the star of the show. 

3. The lyrics certainly can be interpreted as racy but it's all about context. Is it racy when it's sung by the two girls? No. It certainly is calculated to draw attention but innocently. Is is racy when a female burlesque performer  sing it? Of course, that's what a burlesque performer does. It also becomes an interesting callback to the earlier numbers.

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Gypsy almost harkens back to pre-code as there is the subject matter of backstage burlesque life with the brassy, scantily clad strippers ala Broadway Melody of 1929 or Gold Diggers of 1933.  I can’t imagine Louie B. Mayer producing the movie in an era of Eddy and MacDonald, Judy and Mickey wholesome, antiseptic family entertainment.  However it follows the standard format and concepts of past musicals in the staging and way songs are interwoven into the story, and introduce and give you some insight to the characters.  Also it evokes the nostalgic feel of the backstage musicals like For Me and My Gal and Easter Parade, yet it paints a less rose-colored or romanticized picture of show biz; cattle call auditions and the money man picking the talent.  
It also looks ahead to “disruptions” in bringing Natalie Wood to the teen audience members who were familiar with Natalie from youth-oriented movies like Rebel Without A Cause, Splendor in the Grass and West Side Story.


While Rosalind Russell as Mama Rose, bursts into then dominates the scene as a forceful stage mother, she does not necessarily come off as obnoxious or overbearing due to her sense of humor: while trying to schmooze Uncle Jacko by referencing various fraternal organizations he states he’s not an Odd Fellow or a Knight of Pythias, she quips, “Aren’t you anything?”  Then  when he admits he’s an Elk she’s quick with a comeback to win him over, “I should have known it by your good manners.”  Rather than brazenly demanding she charms her way into getting what she wants:  (with a winning smile) “Professor, I just marvel at the way you can make a performer into an artist. She then proceeds to make her requests to the conductor and musicians.

When performed by a child merely seeking to entertain with song and dance the lyrics of “Let Me Entertain You” as written are not particularly “edgy”, however the song can take on a different tone or coloring (read risque) when sung by a provocatively dressed young woman.  It’s all a matter of interpretation. 

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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?

It's a throw back to the backstage musicals.  Gypsy shows us how things work both in front of the burlesque house as well as behind the scenes.  But unlike those old stories this one doesn't have the opulence and the display of wealth.  These performers are struggling for every dime they earn and it shows in how they dress and live on the road.  

  1. 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 immediately makes her presence known.  Mama Rose is a loud obnoxious, boisterous, stage mother.  She is living vicariously threw her daughters (specifically June since she sees herself as being as talented as her daughter).  She comes in yelling at the girls, the director, the musicians, the lighting folks, trying to run off the competition for her daughters.   Things will go her way or else.

  1. 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).

This song is an important one in the show as it is used repeatedly threw out.    The lyrics are in this case meant to be innocent to show what the girls are capable of.  Later the song is used more seductively by Gypsy to show that she is not a little girl any more and she is more than capable of "entertaining" in many ways.  I also think Gypsy's continued use of the song is a bit of a slap in the face to her mother because Mama Rose wanted her to strip, but she really didn't intend for her to because a start that way as it wasn't "legitimate theater".  

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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 way the scene opens is reminiscent of the older musicals with the vaudeville, cute kids performing and putting on an act show. However, as the scene plays the curtain is pulled back and the new disruption comes from the brash, aggressive entrance by Russell (something not many old musicals had). The best example of disruption is the full force of Mama Rose and her stage mother role. 
 

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 comes in no holds bar. Takes complete control of the scene and no man can stop her.
 

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 feel there is a double entendre to the song completely. When the kids sing it they are doing it in play. However, when Louise sings it as an adult it takes on a whole new sexy meaning.

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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 team work between the girls is a throw back to the ensembles of the 1950's, while the backstage vaudeville setting takes the viewer back the the earliest days in film.  The fact that these performers are all "free agents" representing themselves, and trying to set up contracts directly with the promoters reflects the new business model in the film industry.

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.

As a classically trained actress Rosalind Russell knew how to make an entrance.  She projects her voice so the people in the very back can hear her, her words are clear and concise, she knows how to hit her marks on the stage, and how best to light a scene.  All of these skills make her a top performer.  They also lend an air of authenticity to Mama Rose, and also a little bit of sadness to her character.  She knows all the right things to say and do, but never can grab a hold of the prize.
 

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 think that the lyrics can be interpreted as both innocent and charming, but also as provocative and sultry depending on who is singing it, and in what context.  On the one hand, a couple of cute little kids wanting nothing more than a little attention and the chance to make the viewers happy.  On the other, later in the film, an adult woman asking for another type of attention while also promising to make the viewer happy, but on a much more personal level.

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      This scene introducing Mama Rose (Rosalind Russell) looks backwards to classical musicals in its origin and its setting. It is a movie adaptation of a successful Broadway musical, and it presents, at least on the surface, a traditional backstage musical trope.   But, a deeper assessment reveals that this is not a show that harks back to the "golden age," rather it is one that foreshadows the disruptions that were to become dominant in the movie musicals of the 1960's. Even though the costumes are colorful, the back stage setting looks much darker and less sanitized than in earlier musicals. The presentation is more realistic and less picturesque, visually (and this is not necessarily a good thing). Then there is the song and dance, which in this clip is grating and somewhat pathetic, and is also truncated and overwhelmed by the entrance of Mama Rose. Frankly, the most disruptive thing that can be done to a musical is to interrupt a song.  Her entrance also disrupts the normal power structure of the back stage world. She enters and takes over, displacing the traditional centers of power, the producer and the director. The director is looking for talent, the producer is looking out for his money and promoting his favorite, and Mama Rose is a relentless stage mother pushing her minimally talented daughters and threatening the competition.

      Russell's entrance is forceful, overwhelming and overpowering anything in her way. She is like a force of nature; she storms in and leaves destruction it her wake. There is nothing subtle about her approach, and no one is safe from her wrath - even the children. As a traditionally trained actress, she knows how to project her voice and command the stage. Her verbal delivery recalls the rapid-fire style she used with Cary Grant in "His Girl Friday" (1940), but here, she is not the victim, she is the perpetrator. Although I generally like Russell, she is unappealing in this clip. She is pushy and obnoxious, as she lives vicariously through her children and exploits them for her personal gratification. She must be a great actress, she made me dislike someone I usually like.

      The lyrics of the song performed by Louise and Baby June, "Let Me Entertain You," don't seem particularly sly, subversive, or edgy (at least the few lyrics that can be heard over Mama Rose). While the presentation has overtones of double entendre, it is due to issues of context, not content. Baby June's "little Dutch girl" costuming and dance present her as more of a teasing seductress than Louise, who is dressed in a drab Buster Brown outfit that is sexually ambiguous and ungainly.  Heightening the disruption in this scene is the camera work; as the song is performed, the camera pulls out for a long-shot, rather than a close-up, which allows the chaos on stage to further distract us from the song.  

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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 theme of backstage/back story through the times of vaudeville directly reflect films made in the 30s. Im not sure though how it "looks ahead" as I see this film as business as usual for movie musicals. Sets and costumes are lusher - but not sure how this illustrates the disruption that will surface.

  1. 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.

Rosalind Russell is a dream. I love her in absolutely ANYTHING! No one delivers quick/witty dialogue projected so articulately than Rosalind She was the master. Talk about dominating a scene!! Even Karl Malden- who had an amazing presence - is dwarfed in this scene. She simply does not miss a single beat. She leaves the viewer assured she will have her way no mater what.

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 others have mentioned the disruption here is the shift of theme towards darkness. We are moving away from "the hills are alive" and towards more poignant real life material. The culture also shifts in that people are not buying "goody-two-shoes" stories anymore as we move into a rejection of 50s values. Sondheim's outstanding ability to write tongue-in-cheek satyrical lyrics is very much in pace with the times.

 

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1.  Gypsy appears to be an homage to film's vaudeville roots. We see how entertainment evolved to the musicals of the big screen.  We also see the demise in importance of the highly managed musical executives, the producer, for the rise of the independent, individual star (managed here by mom).

2.  It's Rosalind Russell! She always makes an entrance.  To her early comedic roles in "The Women" and "His Girl Friday" to the fabulous "Auntie Mame," it is all Rosalind Russell -- fast talking, fast moving, genius with the use of props, brash, loud, and aggressive with a profound sense of use of the stage space.  She attracts and maintains the audience gaze demanded of an on-stage, theatrical performance. She is the delicious Rosalind Russell.

3.  There is definitely some foreshadowing when Louis sings, "I'll do some tricks" with the intertwined finger moves.  I'd say that is suggestive.  I do not know if it's disruptive.  We definitely know a minor character in the Hollywood studio would not share the scene with a star.  Minor characters were definitely kept to one-liners, in the shadows, in the backgrounds, until the Hollywood machine chose (if ever) to create the star.

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I admit I've only seen Gypsy once, and once felt like too many times. I've read, on other discussion threads, how other people reacted to 7 Brides. Well, I react similarly to Gypsy. As Lina would say in Singin' in the Rain, I cain't stand him." However, Gypsy has its moments, and Rosalind Russell and Karl Malden are two of them.

Response to #1.

This scene depicts vaudeville - either a rehearsal or an audition. Most of the "old" musicals from the 20s/30s were centered around musical rehearsals or vaudeville acts forming/breaking up, etc. The colors are muted; one can definitely tell that the era of the MGM gloss has ended. But that's where the look backwards ends. Going forward, the characters are completely different than those of the musicals of the past. Rose, Herbie, even baby June and Louise are loud, brash, unafraid of interrupting each other. There is very little behavior modification happening onscreen; manners don't exist in this world. In musicals of previous eras , even within the world of vaudeville, the world was depicted as mannerly. We have definitely entered a new era of brash nonconformity and individualism. 

Response to #2.

Mama Rose represents women of the 60s more than anything. She's bold, brave, and determined. She convinces me that she is going to get her way, regardless of the two men standing in front of her. 

Response to #3.

Yes, the lyrics are sly, but Sondheim's lyrics are always sly. He is such a wordsmith, so when I listen to his songs, I naturally think there is double-meaning to everything being sung - the first layer of meaning, the second layer of meaning, and then a third layer of meaning. 

 

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#1  The setting is backstage, similar to what we used to see in the early 30's musicals. But this isn't a success story of the 42nd Street variety. This is a story of failure after failure. This is what entertainers in the rest of the country were doing while Ruby Keeler was saving the show and Flo Ziegfeld was Glorifying the American Girl. This was seedy hotels you couldn't afford, splitting eggrolls, constant reinvention to try to finally find the one hook that would win you an audience.

And the irony, which we see from the outset, is that Baby June's got the chops. She's good onstage, she dances well, she projects energy. But Mama Rose is in charge, and neither June nor Louise are free to develop their own presence.

#2  Both Ethel Merman and Rosalind Russell had unmistakable power onstage. But while Merman boomed, Russell machine-gunned. Russell's power was a juggernaut, of the kind we saw in her screwball comedies like "His Girl Friday" and musicals like "Wonderful Town". She enters moving forward, and never stops. Her eyes are constantly moving, her mind jumping from one detail to another. 

And to see the result, don't look at the manager or Uncle Jocko. Look at the band. They're loving it. They don't drag their feet, they don't roll their eyes. Rose tells them to jump, and they ask to what octave. Suddenly they've got someone who knows what she wants. And to top off the scene, you have her exit, hat pin in hand, literally chasing the poor Balloon Girl off to who knows where. That's Mama Rose - follow in her wake and you'll have the time of your life; cross her and you'll lose an arm.

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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?

It looks back to vaudeville, and the backstage musical. It also looks at how acts were favorited - or given partiality - which was mirrored in the "payola" scandal in radio.

  1. 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's, loud, brash, and has incredible stage presence. She upstages and takes over. It's like she's the star, not the kids.

 

  1. 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 never noticed any subversiveness in the lyrics of the song. I saw this film in first-run as a child. The staging was pure vaudeville. 

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My sophomore year in HS (1963-64, Salt Lake City, of all places) a girl in my class did a lip sync to "Gotta Have a Gimmick" wearing Christmas tree lights over a body leotard during a talent show at an assembly. Later, I found out this song was about strippers. I wonder if her mother knew? In any case, this has always been my favorite number in Gypsy. At another assembly, a boy in pregnant drag did a lip sync to "My Boyfriend's Back." So we weren't all so innocent in middle America.

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The film Gypsy does look backward to classical musicals from its title and this scene of an audition in a theatre.  Performers from vaudeville onward are "gypsies" by nature, transient folk who travel across the country doing their acts for various audiences within the theatre circuit.  The inside look of the stage audition is classic movie musical form, showing the film viewers the pre-performance trials of getting a part in a show.  This glimpse into the struggles of performers will be heightened in A Chorus Line where dancers will sing about their challenges in pursuing their big break in the theatre.  We see children being paraded in front of a group of theatre backers.  Given their innocence and desire to please these men, it can be a bit disturbing that children are being used for the pleasures of an adult audience and for the fulfillment of their parents' egos.

 

Here enters the prime example of a parent seeking that satisfaction from her "babies" that she did not achieve for herself--Mama Rose.  Rosalind Russell as Mama Rose enters the theatre and the beginning of her two girls' performance as if she is the director, producer, and financial backer of the show.  Mama Rose is all brusqueness, bravado, and business.  She gives direction:  "Sing out Louise!"  She commandeers the pace of the audition:  "Hold it, hold it!!"  She soft soaps Uncle Jocko while also challenging his identity:"Aren't you anything?" And she bolsters the orchestra conductor's talent:  "Professor, I just marvel at how you can make a performer an artist."  With all of these actions, Mama Rose has taken center stage where she knows she always belongs.  It may seem that she is doing this Houdini act of control for the benefit of her talented daughter June, but we can sense that the big and bolder she is as the stage Mom, the more she is personally connected to the grasp of fame.

The lyrics of the song "Let Me Entertain You" are subversive.  Here, the audition involves children, but the entertainment is for adults, and exactly how the adults react to the children's display of their entertainment is not wholly known.  Baby June's short dress is too revealing of her budding adolescent body, and even the balloon girl is suggestive of a stripper who will reveal more of her body as the balloons are popped.  A scene like this one is a foreshadowing of the film Pretty Baby. Given that Mama Rose call her children "babies," demonstrating that she does not want her meal ticket to grow up and lose their cuteness, in a loose sense she is giving away their innocence to be ogled at my men.  This number is not "On the Good Ship Lollypop" and little Shirley was almost a baby when she sang this song to the men in the plane.  June's voice is more jarring, and her movements are stiffer as though she is doing her song and dance under protest--again, another indication that the audition and June's song is artificial and subversive of adult manipulation.  This is not George M. Cohen performing with his family.  This is the family head, Mama Rose, making her children support her in a fashion that feeds her ego like the chow mein she loves so much.  It is not a surprise that Herbie and the other boys in Mama Rose's company while leaves when they have the opportunity to be their own free agents.

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I find Rosalind Russell a little hard to take. She is pushy and bombastic in many roles, and throughout this film. I just get a little tired of it. Too much yelling at Karl Malden. She was the same way, maybe a little toned down, in Picnic.

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22 hours ago, MotherofZeus said:

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. 

Dear Mama Zeus:

I did not mean that you, or anyone else, who doesn't respond to Ethel Merman is awful or ignorant. We all respond to some performers and not others. What I was referring to was someone involved in the original production referring to her as "a trained dog" and the constant refrains about her not being an actress. She took the role of Rose very seriously and was thrilled to be playing a character for once who was not essentially her. She was also thrilled to have a fine actor (Jack Klugman) playing opposite her who could help her grow. 

If I did offend you, I'm very sorry. It was not my intent.

 

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Yes, Rose was a brash stage mother. She was hard and erratic, and today she probably would be on the Child Protective Services list of most-wanted. There are tons of articles, books, plays, songs about Rose, Louise, and June and their various exploits, and most of it is brow-raising. But before we simply condemn Rose as an abusive mother or a down right bad person, let’s consider the time and circumstances in which she was living. It was the mid-1920’s when Louise first appeared in a Burlesque. This means Rose was a single mother (she was married and divorced three times) in a time when such a thing was not just frowned upon, it was considered to be the most disasterous fate for a woman. How could she expect to survive without a man? Rose eked out a living for herself and her daughters, and this included putting her girls on the stage. They were expected to sing for their supper, and this is literal, not a metaphor. It was a difficult life for everyone. During a time when she had nothing, Rose did her best to extract from herself and her girls that which required no external tools. If June could sing and dance, and Louise could be witty while she bared her skin, then they could always go anywhere and “work” for themselves using those talents which were inside them. Rose’s methods were ill-conceived, often appeared selfish and, frankly, deplorable, but one would have to argue long and hard to get me to believe she didn’t love her children over herself and wasn’t trying to give them a foundation on which to build their lives. 

In Rosalind Russell’s portrayal of Rose, she hits on the uglier aspects of the character with all cylinders. But there also are moments in the film where Rose shows her deeper, sensitive side, and we see that she does have feelings after all, and among them is love for her daughters and Herbie. She does so desperately want her chance at fame, to hear the crowd roar with “Rose, Rose, Rose” on their lips. She wants a taste of the acknowledgement and love which she has showered on others in her life. Rose’s hardness, her constant need to talk louder, faster, longer than others, her domineering character, all are classic covers for her depression, insecurity, and loneliness. Russell shows us this softer, needy side of Rose in a few scenes, and it is that part of the role we can look at to explain (not excuse, but explain) Rose’s behaviors. We do not have to necessarily forgive Rose for how she is, but let us try to understand who she is.

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The setting of the scene is vaudeville and looks backwards to child stars, such as Shirley Temple and a young Judy Garland, which vaudeville was the beginning of musicals.

Mama Rose barges in during the performance and she wants her daughters to do it the way she wants it done or she doesn't want them to perform at all.

At the beginning, the song "Let Me Entertain You" sounds like a child's song, then we find out later that it is really about the stripper Gypsy Rose Lee, who was known for her striptease acts and was also an actress.

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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?

This scene looks back to the back-stage musicals of the pre-code 1930’s when you had Ruby Keller or Joan Blondell trying to get a break in a show. In the pre-code 1930’s musicals, there was backstage hanky-panky and characters such as Ginger Roger’s Anytime Annie who were not hiding their willingness to sleep their way into a part or stardom. However, this film looks ahead because these characters are more overt with their sleaziness and the children are witnessing it.  The little balloon girl’s mom has “favored” the manager in order for her daughter to win the contest and Mama Rose calls this out in front of everyone!

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.

Rosalind Russell had played in some on the best screwball comedies in the 1930’s.  Russell enters the scene is fast paced, fast talking, and in a chaotic manner very reminiscent of her work in “The Front Page” with Cary Grant.  Russell also played in a lot of strong female parts in the 1940’s.  All of Russell’s vast experience is on display as she enters the scene and takes over the scene, she overpowers and intimidates the men, the children - everyone, she’s a force!

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).

A little girl dressed like Shirley Temple singing a song like “Let me Entertain you” is certainly subversive and edgy.  You know,  little June is innocent, but at the same time the song is suggestive.  This is disruptive because, the people here are more knowing, we can feel this is the low end of show business and anything goes on, so there’s a feeling that not only shouldn’t June be singing this song and you also wonder about her safety among this group. This is very disruptive as opposed to the whitewashed backstage scenes that many people were used to from older musicals.

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