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Mama Rose is the ultimate stage mom in ‘Gypsy’

“Dainty June and Her Farm Boys” is a vaudeville act in “Gypsy.” Kir Kipness, foreground, is June and in the background, from left, are Zach Carpenter, Derrick Armijo, James Williams and Logan Scott Mitchell. (Courtesy of Max Woltman)

“Dainty June and Her Farm Boys” is a vaudeville act in “Gypsy.” Kir Kipness, foreground, is June and in the background, from left, are Zach Carpenter, Derrick Armijo, James Williams and Logan Scott Mitchell. (Courtesy of Max Woltman)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Fueled by a universal starvation for attention, “Gypsy” is Broadway’s brassy answer to “King Lear.”

William Lang is Herbie and Laurie Finnegan is Madame Rose in “Gypsy,” often called “the King Lear of the musical-theater canon. (Courtesy of Max Woltman)

William Lang is Herbie and Laurie Finnegan is Madame Rose in “Gypsy,” often called “the King Lear of the musical-theater canon. (Courtesy of Max Woltman)

“Gypsy” opens at the University of New Mexico’s Rodey Theatre on Saturday, Nov. 22.

The Landmark Musicals production stars Laurie Finnegan as Mama Rose.

A cascade of theater critics and writers have called the show the greatest American musical.

The ultimate story of an aggressive stage mother, “Gypsy” was based on the memoirs of the burlesque star Gypsy Rose Lee.

“Not everybody’s had a mother like Mama Rose, but everybody’s had a mother,” director Hal Simons said. “I think we all relate to the issues in the story.”

Many of those songs became standards: “Let Me Entertain You,” “Some People” and “Everything’s Coming Up Roses.”

Broadway legend Jule Styne wrote the music, while a young Stephen Sondheim penned the lyrics.

Rose and her daughters June and Louise travel across the country in the 1920s during the waning days of vaudeville.

Rose dreams of transforming her two girls into performers amid the hardships of show business.

The character of Louise is based on Gypsy Rose Lee, while June is based on her sister, the actress June Havoc.

The archetypal stage mother, Rose is aggressive and domineering, pushing her children on stage whether they like it or not.

While June craved stardom, Louise did not.

“Gypsy Rose Lee was very honest,” Simons said. “She praised her sister (June) to the hilt and said she had no talent. But she re-invented herself. She could talk and she was witty.”

Zoey Reese portrays Louise, much better known as Gypsy Rose Lee, the legendary striptease artist, in “Gypsy.” (Courtesy of Max Woltman)

Zoey Reese portrays Louise, much better known as Gypsy Rose Lee, the legendary striptease artist, in “Gypsy.” (Courtesy of Max Woltman)

“Gypsy” opened on Broadway in 1959 starring Ethel Merman as the loud and brassy Rose.

The show won eight Tony nominations.

Variously described as “bossy, demanding and horrific” – “an armored tank on autopilot,” Rose has been played in a carousel of revivals by everyone from Angela Lansbury (who won the 1975 Tony Award for the part) to Tyne Daly (winner of the 1990 Tony) to Bernadette Peters (2003) and Patti LuPone (2008 Tony winner).

Finnegan has played leading roles in “Hello, Dolly!,” “A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline,” and “Side by Side” by Sondheim.

She also directed Landmark productions of “The Fantasticks” and “Carousel.”

Many of the revivals have watered down the story at least slightly, Simons said.

According to Lee’s memoirs, Rose faked being molested by a hotel owner, whom she then shoved out the window.

“There’s no getting around that she was a loud broad and a little on the crass side,” Simons said. “She may have been responsible for more than one murder.”

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