Should Barbra Streisand star in Gypsy?
Word on the street is that Barbra Streisand is in negotiations with Universal Pictures to bring Gypsy back to the screen.
I’m both shaken and stirred.
Here’s the deal: Barbra and Joel Silver are set to produce a new incarnation of the Tony Award-winning musical from 1959 with music by Jule Styne, book by Arthur Laurents, and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, which originally starred Ethel Merman on the Great White Way. While no director has been hired—and Streisand herself hasn’t directed a movie musical since Yentl in 1983—celebrated scribe Julian Fellowes of Gosford Park and Downton Abbey fame has been hired to write the script.
So far, so good.
Barbra is an exceptional talent who is more than a triple threat. Besides singing, dancing, and acting, the woman also writes, directs, composes, produces and controls every aspect of her 50+ years in entertainment. Even though people may disagree about her political views or her unusual physical appearance or her headstrong personality, her talent remains untarnished. She has been honored with several Oscar, Emmy, Grammy, Tony, Peabody, Golden Globe, and Directors Guild nominations and awards, including two Academy Awards (Best Actress for Funny Girl and co-writer of the Best Song “Evergreen” from A Star is Born). For all intents and purposes, she is more than adequately equipped to perform the juicy role of Mama Rose. Fans are already chomping at the bit for the ubiquitous soundtrack (myself included), anxious to hear La Streisand’s unique take on such classics as “Some People,” “Small World,” “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” and “Rose’s Turn,” to name a few. Besides Ethel Merman, other formidable actresses have tackled the demanding role including Elaine Stritch, Rosalind Russell, Angela Lansbury, Tyne Daly, Linda Lavin, Bette Midler, Bernadette Peters, and Patti LuPone. Not too shabby of a list.
But is there even room for one more diva to join the ranks of these spectacular actresses? If so, it’s hard to deny the one glaring problem inherent with seeing Streisand in the lead role, one that is both painful to bring up yet impossible to ignore. Is she just too darned old to play Rose?
Let’s face it. Barbra Streisand turns 70 years old on April 24, 2012, exactly two weeks from today. To say she’s no longer a spring chicken and may be too long in the tooth to perform this part would mean that I’ve taken two ridiculous examples to come up with one unnerving conclusion. She just might be.
Now, Barbra is no stranger to ageism in casting. Even though she was age-appropriate to star as Fanny Brice in 1968’s penultimate Funny Girl, when it came time to turn another popular tuner into celluloid, all hell broke loose. Instead of Carol Channing being cast in her signature role as Dolly Levi straight from Broadway, it was Barbra who clinched the starring role in the 1969 film version of Hello, Dolly! directed by hoofer Gene Kelly. She was only 27 years old at the time, and the matchmaker’s age was supposed to be closer to 50. Regardless of her age, she pulled it off. With aplomb, no less. If she could play older back then, why can’t she play younger now? After all, if 40 is the new 20, no doubt 70 is the new 50. If anyone can make me believe that, it’s Barbra Streisand.
Ever since I was a kid, I believed in her. My childhood was spent listening to my father’s record albums and poring over the liner notes of the aforementioned Funny Girl and Hello, Dolly! soundtracks, not to mention such favorites as The Barbra Streisand Album and My Name is Barbra, all the way through “Evergreen,” “Enough Is Enough (No More Tears),” and “Guilty,” just to name a few. I was hooked. In fact, she’s been such an integral part of my life for so long that there was even a time when it became personal. For the first six months of 1993, I worked for her longtime manager Marty Erlichman during the recording of her album Back to Broadway. Jealous much?
She’s a part of me. There’s no denying that. And Gypsy is one of my favorite musicals of all time. I’ve seen it twice on Broadway with both Bernadette Peters and Patti LuPone. I own both DVDs; the Bette Midler version turned me out. I can sing practically every part by heart, although not very well. A friend and I were videotaped lip-synching “If Mama Was Married” in drag at a house party. And “Little Lamb” makes me cry every time.
And yet…do we really need another version? At 70, does Barbra still have the vocal chops to hit it out of the park? At her advanced age, who would make sense to play her daughter Louise, the girl who morphs like a caterpillar into the stunning butterfly known as Gypsy Rose Lee? Lea Michele is an obvious choice, although she’d embody Barbra’s granddaughter more believably than a daughter. As for Dainty June, you know who would fit into the perfect age bracket? Wait for it, wait for it … Madonna. Seriously, that would make total sense age-wise, if you think about it. And that’s just wrong (even though I love Madonna too).
I can’t even begin to answer these questions, so I’m just going to leave it up to Barbra. This role may be the perfect swan song to her long and fabulous musical movie career and the most amazing bookend to Funny Girl ever (which also had music by Jule Styne). She was close to bookwriter Arthur Laurents up until his death and has collaborated heavily with lyricist Stephen Sondheim throughout the years. Rosalind Russell’s performance in the 1962 film earned weak reviews, and her singing was dubbed. It’s been 50 long years since a theatrical version has been produced. That’s a long time, folks. This could be a slam dunk and I, for one, am going to leave it up to the fates and to Barbra’s impeccable taste. I challenge her to bring me the ultimate portrayal of Mama Rose, one that could only spring from the formidable talents of Ms. Streisand herself.
Come on, Barbra, I say curtain up, light the lights. I invite you to take on the most revered musical of all time for what may be the last time. My life won’t be complete until I see and hear you belt, “Here she is, boys! Here she is, world! It’s Rose!”
Mama, you can show it to me anytime.