VINTAGE PLAYBILL: Gypsy, Starring Ethel Merman, 1959
By Brynn Cox
On May 21, 1959, the musical Gypsy premiered at the Broadway Theatre.
Producer David Merrick purchased the rights to Gypsy Rose Lee's memoirs and enlisted Arthur Laurents to write the book.
After Irving Berlin and Cole Porter declined the project, West Side Story lyricist Stephen Sondheim signed on to pen the lyrics while Jule Styne would write the music.
The production and Ethel Merman's now-legendary performance won high praise. "She is playing the indomitable mother of Gypsy Rose Lee," wrote Brooks Atkinson. "Her pipes resonant and her spirit syncopated, [Merman] struts and bawls her way through it triumphantly."
The musical earned eight Tony nominations, but won zero; the 1960 Tony Awards were extremely competitive, including powerhouse musicals Fiorello! and The Sound of Music.
The musical remains a perennial Broadway favorite. A 1974 revival starred Angela Lansbury, a 1989 revival starred Tyne Daly, the 2003 revival starred Bernadette Peters, and the most recent 2008 revival starred Patti LuPone.
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