Can Barbra Streisand bring ‘Gypsy’ into a new era?

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The good news for those in Hollywood contemplating a musical with Barbra Streisand is that she has three of the higher-grossing movie musicals of all time.

The bad news is that the most recent of the three came out in 1983.

The singer-actress who won an Oscar for 1968’s ‘Funny Girl,’ followed it up with 1975’s ‘Funny Lady’ and cross-dressed in the shtetl in 1983’s ‘Yentl’ is now in talks to star as Mama Rose in a reboot of ‘Gypsy’ with Warner Bros., in news first reported by the New York Post and confirmed today by Streisand’s representative.

‘Gypsy’ is of course the 1959 musical-- Arthur Laurents wrote the book and Stephen Sondheim the lyrics; Jule Styne penned the music -- about Gypsy Rose Lee and her family, loosely based on Lee’s memoir. A film version with Rosalind Russell was made in 1962, a TV version was made with Bette Midler in 1993, as well as numerous Broadway revivals over the years, the most recent in 2008. (For a photo gallery of actresses who picked up the Broadway mantle on the silver screen, check out this photo gallery at our sister blog Culture Monster.)


Streisand’s capacity for the role aside, the immediate reaction to this news might be: Do a lot of filmgoers know or remember the original enough for a new film installment to work? Nostalgia alone rarely sells a remake, no matter how beloved the thing being remade. Do they yearn to see Streisand, best known to a younger generation (if she’s known at all) as the daffy mom in ‘Meet the Fockers,’ on the big screen in a leading role?

And maybe most important, do enough filmgoers in 2011 want to see a musical in the first place?

Big questions all. But maybe not the biggest one. Musicals, after all, can thrive these days. It’s just that the ones that do tend to be shiny pop updates of stage classics, like ‘Hairspray;’ shiny pop originals, like ‘High School Musical 3'; or shiny pop adaptations of shiny pop stage originals, like ‘Mamma Mia.’

And ‘Gypsy’ ain’t shiny -- it’s dark and complex, like much of Sondheim’s work.

Occasionally a movie musical that’s a little rougher around the edges can work -- ‘Dreamgirls’ and Sondheim’s ‘Sweeney Todd’ both did reasonably well within the past five years, for instance. And ‘Gypsy’s’ themes of stage-parenting and the pressures of the spotlight feel more of the zeitgeist than ever.

But it’s an open question how much a ‘Gypsy’ update with a Lindsay Lohan sheen would sit with the die-hards. And it’s an equally open question how well a movie faithful to the 1959 original would sit with everyone else.

--Steven Zeitchik


Culture Monster: Barbra Streisand as Mama Rose? Why not Patti Lupone?

Musical to movie snubs: Photo Gallery