Barbra Streisand as Mama Rose? Why not Patti LuPone?


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The rumor mill is swirling once again about a possible movie version of ‘Gypsy’ starring Barbra Streisand. Reports in the New York media earlier this week said that the star is considering playing the monstrous stage matriarch, Mama Rose. On Wednesday, an L.A. representative for Streisand confirmed that ‘conversations have been had’ about the project but did not offer more information.

Streisand -- whose most recent film roles have put her on Focker Isle -- hasn’t performed in a movie musical since ‘Yentl’ in 1983. While there is little doubt about whether Streisand can vocally pull off the role of Mama Rose, her possible casting brings up the question of whether an actress who has performed the role on stage might be a better choice.


Without being too blunt about it: Patti LuPone. The Broadway diva won a Tony in 2008 for her performance as Mama Rose. In his review, Times theater critic Charles McNulty wrote that ‘what distinguishes LuPone’s accomplishment is the fiery fusion of music and drama that she pulls off with seemingly spontaneous expressiveness. Speech slides into song as naturally as water returns to air, and the ensuing rainbow of vocal color is like the proof of some rarely observed scientific law.’

Of course, Streisand is a household name and LuPone isn’t quite that. (Neither is Bernadette Peters or Tyne Daly, two other recent Broadway Mama Roses.) The need for a celebrity name that will sell movie tickets is nothing new in the Broadway-to-Hollywood adaptation game. Going back to the heydey of movie musicals, producers have been hiring screen stars to take over roles from seasoned stage performers. If Hollywood loves Broadway musicals, it doesn’t necessarily love Broadway actors.

Click on the photo gallery to the left to see several famous Broadway musicals that had major casting changes after Hollywood came calling. Sometimes the changes are amicable, but more often than not, it’s a simple question of celebrity economics.

In fact, it’s happened to ‘Gypsy’ before. The 1962 movie version starred Rosalind Russell in the role of Mama Rose, with Natalie Wood as her daughter. On Broadway, the roles were originated by Ethel Merman and Sandra Church. Merman was said to be extremely hurt that she lost the role to Russell, who was a bigger box-office draw at the time.


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

-- David Ng