Fresh off the success of Mame, Angela Lansbury went into another Jerry Herman show: the short-lived Dear World. Then she went into a Jule Styne-Bob Merrill musical: Prettybelle, which closed out of town in Boston. Determined to pack it all in, she and her family moved to Ireland—until the chance to do Gypsy came her way. She said no for a year before finally acquiescing.
Lansbury went on to play Rose in the West End and on a multi-week tour across America before opening on Broadway in the Winter Garden Theatre September 23, 1974. Gypsy cemented Lansbury’s status as an honest-to-god musical theatre performer and helped to eradicate the Mame mystique that had trailed her, earning her a Tony Award for her portrayal of the ultimate stage mother.
“Rose is an extraordinary woman, and the thing is she really, really wanted everything for herself,” Lansbury says over the phone, a day before the May 21 60th anniversary of the original production of Gypsy opening on Broadway. “That’s the thing about Rose. She brought her girls up, and they were really fulfilling everything that she would have wanted to do in her life. And ‘Rose’s Turn’ is all about that.”
The climactic number of the show, “Rose’s Turn” finds Rose letting loose all of the frustration and anger that she had tamped down throughout the show, pushing her children to succeed and maintaining a terrifying tunnel vision regarding that success. But shortly after a fight with her daughter, Louise (now Gypsy Rose Lee), Rose finds herself alone on an empty stage and finally admits to her underlying intentions.
“‘Rose’s Turn’ tells the entire history of Rose’s desire for her girls to succeed,” Lansbury says, "and when they did succeed, it was a terrible blow to her. Instead of her getting the pat on the back, they got it. And that’s what ‘Rose’s Turn’ is about: ‘Someone tell me when is it my turn.’ That’s really the line, and the reason she coached and shoved her girls ahead of her. She couldn’t so it so she had them do it, and yet when they did, they took away the one thing she wanted more than anything else: to be counted for herself.”
Lansbury’s decades in the film business paid off with Rose, providing her the craft to bring Rose to life in a way she admits that the original, Ethel Merman, may have lacked. “The original Rose was not an actress,” Lansbury says dryly, “so she was singing about herself. That’s OK; we all bring slices of ourselves to Rose. What I brought was my total understanding of the character, as a character actress, which I think perhaps I was more so than any of the other ladies who’ve played it. For me, she was a whole character, that’s what I brought, my understanding of this human. [‘Rose’s Turn’] was her finally understanding herself.”