Bette Comes Up Roses

Competing with the memory of that other divine, Ethel Merman, la Midler exuberantly revives the musical Gypsy

Broadway's 1959-60 season, though not a high-water mark in the vanished heyday of the book musical, brought The Sound of Music, Fiorello!, Carol Burnett in Once Upon A Mattress and Jackie Gleason in Take Me Along. Yet it is probably best remembered among devotees for a show business story called Gypsy, which was based on the memoirs of a stripteaser's rivalry with her actress sister but evolved into a harrowing portrait of their implacable stage mother, played by Ethel Merman in her final and, many feel, greatest origination of a Broadway role.

For actresses, the idea of emulating Merman is intimidating,...

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