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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Letters to the Editor:

Published: December 5, 2008
Section: Opinions

To the Editor:

I’m very concerned with Eli Sedransk’s ability to review musical theater productions effectively if he knows so little about the art as to reduce Gypsy – the near perfect combination of a mastermind book by Arthur Laurents and some of the most well-known songs in the industry thanks to Jule Styne and Stephen Sondheim, two of the most accomplished musical theater artists in history – to “a meandering, schmaltzy plot,” “half-conceived characters,” and songs which “are contrived at best.”

As a Brandeis Alum, I find it quite troubling that despite the wealth of musical theater talent and knowledge at the university, this paper is unable to find a writer suitable enough to understand how important Gypsy was in the history of musical theater.

Sedransk poses the question, “How did this do well on Broadway?” I figured I’d offer this writer an answer in hopes that he would find a way to become more informed before ever attempting to review a theater production again. Gypsy tells a tragic, heartfelt, and inspiring story of not only a mother who is unable to let go of her children, but also of an American who is unable to let go of Vaudeville theater in a time when history is shifting the popular tendency in the direction of Burlesque. In fact, the significance of this is brilliantly portrayed in the music as what was the Vaudeville number “Let Me Entertain You,” becomes the much more suggestive Burlesque “Let Me Entertain You.” Apparently that glaringly obvious and poignantly smart detail didn’t strike Mr. Sendransk.

It is not simply that “Louise’s talent does not suffice,” as the author speculates in his opening paragraph, but that her talents are the product of the new generation in which she was born. The creators link Mama Rose’s insatiable need for Vaudeville with a mother’s connection to her children, something that most average American’s can understand.

The author also seems to ignore that this “meandering plot line” is the true story of the “half-conceived” Gypsy Rose Lee’s life, a fact that was present in the director’s note of the program in case a hypothetical reviewer was incoherent enough to note that in the research he/she completed before seeing the show.

As for the contrived songs, I’m fairly certain that “Everything’s Coming Up Roses,” “Small World,” “You’ll Never Get Away from Me,” “Some People,” and “Let Me Entertain You” did not enter the canon of American standards because they were contrived. Gypsy’s score happens to be notable, outside of these songs, for its difficult and astonishing brass parts, its overture that ranks among the best (if not as the best) ever written, its smart lyrics, and its excitingly paced harmonic rhythm, which is not often paralleled in other musical theater works of the time.

The role of Mama Rose, often considered the most complex role ever written for the American Musical Theater, has been a vehicle for numerous stars including Ethel Merman, Tyne Daly, Angela Lansbury, Bette Midler, Bernadette Peters, and Patti LuPone. In terms of the music, there is no other Broadway score in which one character has so many powerhouse numbers. In other words, this show cultivates a star in a way that no other show can.

So, Editor, I do hope that in your next musical theater review, you can find some way to assure that your reviewer is capable of aptly reviewing a show, and is incapable of shooting down some of the best material that the industry has ever seen. That is, after all, what I feel I can expect from my alma mater.

– Matt Stern ‘08