"Sing Out, Louise!" Our Top Ten Musical Theatre Diva Vehicles

By Ben Rimalower
05 Aug 2013

Patti LuPone in Gypsy.
Photo by Joan Marcus

3. Gypsy

If it's diva showcasing ingeniously wed to compelling drama you're after, however, look no further than Gypsy. Often cited as the perfect American musical, the masterpiece of American musical theatre, Gypsy was something of a trick concept, a twofer to begin with. As they had done with Leonard Bernstein and West Side Story, Arthur Laurents and Jerome Robbins and Stephen Sondheim (now working with composer Jule Styne) sought to tell a modern story through sophisticated music and lyrics, integrated with contemporary dramatic writing and elements of modern dance (and vaudeville in this case as well). The other element they added to the mix for Gypsy was to create a vehicle for Broadway's biggest diva, Ethel Merman. In writing powerful scenes and songs for the belter who supposedly couldn't act, they wound up creating the role considered to be the "King Lear" of musical theatre, the standard by which all diva's chops would be measured. It's over 50 years, several generations and four Broadway revivals later and the bar has held.