Friday, May 6, 2011

RIP Arthur Laurents, the man who made me a stripper

Not exactly.

I am deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Arthur Laurents. His best known work was as the book writer for West Side Story and Gypsy. The latter of the two is hands-down my favorite musical of all time and had a profound impact on my life. No, seriously.

My sister, the inimitable Stupidcleese, and I watched Gypsy religiously as children. We watched a lot of other questionable movie musicals as well - Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (referred to in our house, still, as "7 for 7"), a story of kidnap and, ummm, rape; A Chorus Line, the perfect way for children to learn about tits and ass; and of course there were the repeated viewings of Stupidcleese's beloved Annie, which is not questionable as much as dangerous because I am seriously going to stab the next person I hear singing "Easy Street." I have Annie PTSD.

Oh, but Gypsy! That is the best one! I used to sing along with the CD in my room alone and act out all the parts. My favorites to do were "Some People" and "Rose's Turn" - which could explain my extreme geeky joy when Kurt performed "Rose's Turn" on Glee. From the first couple of notes and that first "What did it get ya?" I was clapping and practically crying out of a haze of recognition for the 14 year old Meg in her grandmother's green velvet hat with the mesh veil strutting around her room, singing her guts out. It should be mentioned that 14 year old Meg in the hat with the mesh had no idea how complex Mama Rose is. She just really liked the drama in the song.

Cleese and I were perfect for Gypsy, she blonde and cute like Dainty June, me brunette and awkward like Louise. We used to sing "Baby June and Her Newsboys" all the time.
Cleese: "I have a moo cow, a new cow, a true cow named Caroline"
Meg: "M-moo m-moo"
Cleese: "She's an extra special friend of mine"
Meg: "M-moo m-moo"
...repeat ad nauseum.

I was enchanted by the vaudeville houses section of Gypsy, with Miss Mazeppa and all the other burlesque dancers. I thought it was ridiculously glamorous that Gypsy Rose Lee would have her photo taken in the bathtub and I had no idea why Mama Rose objected so much. Looking back, I wonder if my parents ever worried that my sister and I were so enthralled with this musical. (Mom, maybe you can chime in here?) My friend G choreographs musicals for a high school in South Jerz and while I was delighted to hear that they might do my beloved Gypsy next year, I wonder how terribly appropriate it is to have a 15 year old Tessie Tura.

I don't think we should underestimate the power of the musical. My blonde and talented sister has her sights set on the bigger and better stages, just like Dainty June. And, hilariously, her brunette big sister (who cannot sing as well) has had some success with a burlesque show. Yup, the aforementioned G and I now run around doing an educational show (really!) that involves singing and dancing and burlesque stripping. Somehow I think this all ties back to Gypsy, except without the terrifying stage mother. I'm not being photographed in the bathtub yet, but a girl can dream.

So, thank you Arthur Laurents, for the amazing work you did. Here's my favorite quote from the bathtub fight.

Nobody laughs at me! Because I laugh first. At me! Me, from Seattle! Me, with no education. Me, with no talent, as you kept reminding me my whole life! Well, Mama look at me now. I'm a star! Look! Look how I live! Look at my friends! Look where I'm going! I'm not staying in burlesque! I'm moving, maybe up, maybe down! But wherever it is, I'm enjoying it. I'm having the time of my life! Because for the first time, it is my life! And I love it. I love every second of it! And I'll be damned if you're gonna take it away from me! I am Gypsy Rose Lee! And I love her!

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