Bette Midler dazzles in this made-for TV adaptation of the Broadway musical Gypsy, a whopping 12 years after its television debut.
Based on the memoirs of stripper Gypsy Lee Rose, with music by Jule Styne and Stephen Sondheim, this lengthy musical with some of the most recognizable tunes going, actually focuses on the overbearing stage mother, Mama Rose (Bette Midler). The story begins with Mama as a three times single mother with two girls, Baby June and Louise, who is living with her father (Ed Asner). The pushy loud mouthed mama is determined to keep her two daughters in showbiz. Angelic, blonde June is so talented and saccharin sweet that you want to slap her. Louise is the black sheep, with no talent, who usually ends up in the back of the number, often dressed like a boy. Mama meets Herbie (Peter Riegert), who she persuades to represent her girls in showbiz. Of course, Herbie thinks she'll eventually marry him. Flash a good decade ahead, and Mama is still unwed, leading Herbie on, and still struggling to keep her girls in the limelight. It becomes too much for June, who runs off and gets married. Now there's just Louise. Cynthia Gibb, best known for a stint on the TV series Fame and her role as Karen Carpenter (a role that should have gone to Karen Carpenter look-alike Karen ALLEN, instead of Cynthia in a bunch of bad wigs), plays Louise, who still has no talent. But Mama won't accept that. When Herbie accidentally books them at a theater that caters to live girlie shows, Louise at last comes out of her shell…and her clothes. It looks like Mama may be deserted once again as he final hope becomes a famous stripper.
I've no frame of reference to compare this version of Gypsy. I never saw the original movie, and haven't seen a stage performance. I saw this when it aired in 1993, and still enjoyed it as much now. It definitely has a storyline that doesn't get old and could go into revival for years. The music is instantly memorable, including what are pretty much standards at this point, like "Let Me Entertain You," "Everything's Coming Up Roses," and Together (Wherever We Go)." While the story does get a bit long and the movie is slow at points, the performances—including numerous dance numbers, several with the younger cast of children in the beginning hour—keep you, well, entertained. Cynthia Gibb is a natural as the innocent girl who matures over time while her relationship with her mother changes, and she carries her own vocally. The big stretch is Peter Riegert, whose voice comes off as more of a montone drone when he's coupled for harmony with the Divine Miss M. Bette is at her best—a role she was clearly meant to play…and one she almost turned down, which would have been a shame, because this is the one piece of celluloid that will forever capture her true essence. Her voice is at its finest, and she camps it up perfectly. She simply puts her heart and soul into her final number, "Rose's Turn." It's a performance on screen that will make you feel like you are actually in the first row during a stage production. Extraordinary. If you're a fan of good musicals or Bette, this performance alone is reason enough to have this fine adaptation in your DVD collection.
Presented full frame, 1:33:1 as was its original television broadcast. Sort of a bummer if was filmed this way, considering it's such a grand theatrical experience. But no sweat. I'm rather disappointed with the transfer though. Let me start by saying, component cables, particularly progressive scan, really help clean up a lot of the issues with this film somewhat. Overall, the film is disappointingly soft. Edge enhancement is probably the cause. There's some oversaturation, but it makes the colorful sets and costumes pop all the more. The darks are really dark, and there's not much definition in the image. Pixelation is noticeable, as is a hint of grain. Tiny dust speckles are present, but nothing too distracting. While the colors, as I said, are rich and vivid, I just wish the image could have been sharper.
Along with a standard 2.0 Dolby Digital track, you get a 5.1 audio mix that doesn't quite take enough advantage of the opportunity with only occasional, faint background travel. Vocals and dialogue are front center heavy, with no real dynamic range. On the other hand, the orchestration is lively with nice left/right separation, which makes the vocal that much more bland. Bass response is minimal.
Scene Selection—offers 19 breaks, each with thumbnail clips from the specific chapter.
Commentary with executive producers Craig Zadon and Neil Meron—now this is how a commentary should be. These guys are passionate about their project, and give you a range of details about the challenge getting the movie made at all, technical aspects of the film making process, working with the actors, and scandalous behind-the-scenes trivia. And they also seem to truly appreciate the musical number. Most of the time they remain quite during those!
Gypsy is probably going to stand out as Bette Midler's one great onscreen musical performance in years to come. It's an easily loveable film. While not the most impressive DVD audio and video transfer, it's still a good one for collectors to have.