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Gypsy Rose Lee and the Long Gone Stripper Tree 
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Post Gypsy Rose Lee and the Long Gone Stripper Tree
The newest Sondheim revue has an article on the stripper Christmas tree that was in the original production of Gypsy. The gist of the article is as follows:

John Ellis wrote:
Gypsy Rose Lee has climbed the laddered stocking of the stripper world, tassel by tassel, and mounted a new summit in the field. The burlesque barker barks, "And now, Miss Gypsy Rose Lee, in a special salute to Christmas …" The curtain opens on a tableau a hung-over Ziegfeld might have dreamed up after an eggnog binge: the Gypsy stripper Christmas tree, 15 showgirls decked out in tinsel G-strings, faux burning-candle and bell hats, ornaments for boobs and a swag boa gracefully arcing from one crotch to the next, lush, hilarious — and unforgettable if you saw it. But you only saw it live if you saw the original 1959 production of Jule Styne and Stephen Sondheim's Gypsy featuring Ethel Merman. Fortunately a photographer with a Technicolor touch snapped it.

Willa Kim, personal assistant to Gypsy's Tony-nominated costume designer Raoul Pène du Bois — and eventually a major designer in her own right, twice winning her own Tonys — recalls, "The tree was Jerry Robbins' idea, and he had to fight for it. Arthur Laurents did not want a Christmas number in the show. They had terrible conflicts on this and other things. But of course Robbins did end up getting that box around his name on the theatre poster." Book writer Laurents has cut the tree in all subsequent productions, several of which he has directed.

I watched the disappointing 1962 film version again yesterday - and was unsurprisingly again disappointed by it - where the sequence is replaced by a New Year tableau with a huge champagne bottle and thought how the film really shows how unsatisfactory the sequence is without Louise's monologue. I think the monologue is essential and if the tree is the expense, I'd say it's well worth the cost.

As for the rest of the article, it's largely anecdotal and includes the following recollection about Ethel Merman:

John Ellis wrote:
Merman was every inch the star with the showgirls. The entire cast was summoned to her dressing room at Christmas, and her assistant bellowed out their names from a checklist as they entered one by one. Merman said, "Merry Christmas, Marie!" and held out a package. "It was a bottle of perfume," Wallace remembers. "Her then husband owned a perfume factory." A lot of stars then and now had very warm relations with the company members, "but Ethel was aloof; she wouldn't have remembered my name was Marie. That's why they used the list." (Barbara) London (one of the showgirls) recalls, "That perfume smelled awful!"

There is also a great piece of Mazeppa trivia:

John Ellis wrote:
Faith Dane had been using her trumpet act, capped by blowing the instrument with her head between her legs, for years. When she used it in her audition for Gypsy with John Wallowitch on piano, he recalls, "It was one of the most spectacular auditions ever in the history of Broadway theatre. It was hysterical. Gypsy Rose Lee laughed so hard her eyelashes fell off. Even Sondheim cracked a smile." Sondheim told a theatre discussion panel years later, "That went right into the show." ....

Dane's incorporated trumpet act in "You Gotta Get a Gimmick" stopped the show nightly. She later sued David Merrick for royalties and choreographic credit — and lost. To this day there is a Faith Dane-inspired clause in actors' contracts preventing any lawsuit for business created in rehearsal.

Go and read the rest of the article on the site, if you like. It's pretty interesting.

Later days


Sun Nov 23, 2008 9:00 am
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