Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Gypsy (Mervyn LeRoy, 1962) B

From the minute I heard the Ethel Merman version of "Rose's Turn," I've been in love with the musical of Gypsy, but, somehow, I had never gotten around to hearing the whole soundtrack or seeing the film version (even though I've heard it's inferior to the original stage version). Now that I've seen a full version, I think I feel confident in proclaiming it one of the greatest musicals I've ever seen. Jule Styne and Stephen Sondheim have created some of the most beautiful and memorable musical scores I've ever heard, complete with some grandiose, larger-than-life numbers for one of the most important roles in the history of Broadway: Mama Rose. It's been called the "King Lear of musical theater" and all of the greats have played her: Ethel Merman, Angela Lansbury, Tyne Daly, Bernadette Peters, Patti LuPone and Bette Midler (in a 1993 TV version). Considering the pedigree of the role, it may seem strange that Rosalind Russell, who reportedly only has a two-note range, was cast in this 1962 film version. Indeed, it was strange watching Russell lip sync to most of the songs and then warble through "Mr. Goldstone, I Love You" and parts of "Rose's Turn," but, musical gifts aside, I think she gives a great performance, grounding the sometimes larger than life Mama Rose into reality and really getting the stage mother aspect of the role. As much as I like Russell, I just wish that the producers had gotten first choice Judy Garland to star; she could have nailed both the singing and the acting and probably would have won an Oscar for it. Director Mervyn LeRoy is one of the best of the Golden Age "invisible" directors who can do any type of genre and deliver great results. This Gypsy is still a bit too stagy, but LeRoy keeps it much more cinematic and doesn't let the actors fly off the deep end. If Oscar was looking for a musical to nominate for Best Picture in 1962, why did it go for the dreadful The Music Man, which was a complete and utter disgrace and not Gypsy, which had better music, direction and acting? Natalie Wood was also amazing as the untalented Louise (later to become the notorious Gypsy Rose Lee) and, for the first time, I must say that I actually liked a Karl Malden performance. He's a complete doormat to the overbearing Mama Rose, but he isn't as annoying as you would expect from him or this type of role.

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