Arthur Laurents, Stephen Sondheim and Jule Styne's classic musical Gypsy is one of the most-loved (and most-revived) musicals that Broadway has ever seen, and it all started today in 1959 when the original production opened at the Broadway Theatre. The production went on to run for two years and 702 performances, after which we have gotten four separate Broadway revival productions as well.
The role of the domineering stage mother Mama Rose has become a rite of passage of sorts for Broadway's most luminous leading ladies. Actresses to take on the role include Patti LuPone, Bernadette Peters, Angela Lansbury and Tyne Daly (currently appearing in It Shoulda Been You).
But the woman who started it all was perhaps the most legendary diva of them all: Ethel Merman. The role was written for her and it became, for many, the defining role of her career. "Some People" and "Everything's Coming Up Roses" stayed in her permanent repertoire throughout the rest of her life.
Over in the Vault, we have the opening night Playbill to Gypsy, and it is really a fun way to step back in time on this momentous day in theatre history. Of particular note to me as I looked through it again today was Ethel Merman's lengthy bio, available on page 7.
Whereas most actors just go through a list of their professional credits and accolades, Merman gives you a cliff-notes of her entire life. For instance, you learn she grew up in Astoria, "a section of New York City's borough of Queens." (Can you imagine a world in which the theatre-going public would need to be told where Astoria was?) You get to read more than a little about her stenographic background and continued prowess at short-hand, both "in taking rehearsal notes and dealing with her own correspondence." You'll also, of course, see the songs and shows that had made her a household name. Ethel Merman was certainly quite the personality, which was no small part of her Broadway star status. It should be no surprise that her bio from the Gypsy Playbill is a perfect snapshot of this.
Want to flip through Gypsy's 1959 opening night Playbill, including Merman's bio? Head into the Vault!