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Giving 'em love

Mama Rose is the ultimate stage mother.

Published May 13, 2006

[Times files]
Ethel Merman
Go to Mothers Day Special Report

Though Gypsy is nominally about the life and times of burlesque stripper Gypsy Rose Lee, the real star of the show is her mother.

The indomitable Mama Rose is usually thought of as a pile-driving force of nature, thanks to the razzle-dazzle performance of Ethel Merman in the original production, but there's also a touching, vulnerable side to her in such songs as Small World, in which she charms Herbie into becoming the manager of her girls' act. Her determination to achieve something more than "playing bingo and paying rent'' is on vivid display in Some People, but she can also be sexily flirtatious (You'll Never Get Away from Me) and the best pal a family could ask for (Together).

And never has motherhood been put on the psychiatrist's couch with such searing drama as in Rose's Turn, the quintessential 11 o'clock number in which she sings the eternal lament: "Give 'em love and what does it get you?''

For Gypsy, Jule Styne (music) and Stephen Sondheim (lyrics) wrote the perfect Broadway score - the composers and lyricists of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers voted it the best ever - and it has attracted great interpreters, from Merman to Tyne Daley, Angela Lansbury and Bernadette Peters on Broadway, Rosalind Russell in the movie and Bette Midler on TV.

Mama Rose is the ultimate stage mother.

[Last modified May 12, 2006, 15:16:43]

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