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Studies in Musical Theatre Volume 3 Number 3 © 2009 Intellect Ltd

Article. English language, doi: 10.1386/smt.3.3.285/l

'I had a dream': 'Rose's Turn', musical

theatre and the star effigy
Jason Fitzgerald Yale College

Abstract
7 had a dream' analyses the climactic 'Rose's Turn' number, from Gypsy, in

Keywords
Gypsy
effigy celebrity

the experience of live performance. Applying Joseph Roach's concept of the, celebrity effigy and Scott McMillin's theorization of the musical's dual temporality, Fitzgerald argues that, first, the book musical presents a fictive, world in which non-celebrities rise to the, level of effigies and, second, that 'Rose's Turn' is Momma Rose's attempt to turn that fiction into reality by superseding the celebrity presence of the, actress playing her.

Rose's Turn

Patti LuPone identity

Every major production oí Gypsy that Arthur Laurents has directed, begin-

ning with the 1973 London revival starring Angela Lansbury, culminates in a disturbing dramatic trick. As the inevitable standing ovation for the

climactic number 'Rose's Turn' dies down, the actor playing Rose continues to bow, and she does not stop until she hears her daughter Louise behind her, clapping her own hands at her mother's private histrionics. Stephen Sondheim recalls the first time he saw this sequence in the theatre: 'There was dead silence in the house, and she kept bowing. You realized that you were looking at a mad woman, not at a musical' (quoted in

Garebian 1994: 122).
My own experience of this staging was slightly different but equally
haunting. After Patti LuPone's performance of 'Rose's Turn' in the 2007

Encores! revival of Gypsy, which later became the fifth Broadway incarnation of the show, I rose out of my seat and applauded - not dutifully, but

ecstatically - with the rest of the audience. When I realized that LuPone's bowing was not motivated by our applause, however, I was stunned not

so much at Rose's madness as at my own. Laurents's directorial virtuosity had caused an unsettling semiotic switcheroo: one moment I was an innocent Patti LuPone fan, another moment I was a part of Momma Rose's

fictional world, an audience member who lived only in her head, and therefore a cast member in her schizophrenic dream. As Louise (played by Laura Benanti) walked onstage, I felt as 'caught' and as naked as Rose herself. Confused (and returning, sheepishly, to my seat), I found myself

asking the same questions as she: 'Why did I do it? What did it get me?'
This essay is my first attempt to account for the uncanny quality of this experience, in which I found myself on the other side of the divide between 'musical' and 'madwoman'.
Until its conclusion, 'Rose's Turn' seems to operate like any other musi-

cal show-stopper. A show-stopper, being one of those rare words that

SMT 3 (3) pp. 285-291 © Intellect Ltd 2009

285

spectral other' (Roach 2007: 1 7). and the body cinematic. the audience experience more closely resembles that of a concert than a musical play: there is no concern for plot. Though Roach discusses what he calls 'It'. Her failure marks the collapse of the system of illusions that makes the musical theatre possible. however.to grab hold of 'ft' . and they do not threaten the musical's ability to continue unravelling the fiction of its plot. to become a 'star' . possessed by abnormally interesting people' (Roach 2007: 1).'If I coulda been. Rose is a changed woman. one mortal and one immortal. in relation to historical persons.means what it says. That the musical stage gives any character .] synthesized as an idea' that is 'not reducible to any single one of the materially circulating images of the celebrity. his theories apply to the characters in the fictional world of Gypsy.one may die and also. The wind has gone out not only of Rose's sails but of Gypsy's. and it remains a paradox of celebrity . until it finally falls apart. like a Renaissance English king. character or circumstance. and the play wraps itself up in haste. 'a certain quality. The 'body cinematic' operates as an effigy. these pauses are brief. by trying to eliminate the boundary between character and performer and. The 'wind'. to possess what Joseph Roach (2007) has playfully dubbed it'. with Momma so deflated. talentless older sister of Dainty June. there is not another note of sung music in Gypsy.is the Aristotelian action of this musical. to have so much as another scene change. It would be unthinkable.the power to inhabit the rarefied air of the celebrity. Once the song is over. predominantly actors and political figures. is the faith that defines Momma Rose and the musical she belongs to. is different.that had been untameable only moments ago.even the plain. The effectiveness of 'Rose's Turn' in performance is best understood as pushing this fiction to its limit. I woulda been' (Laurents et al. live forever (Roach 2007: 69-71). or effigy. in this case. Typically. 286 Jason Fitzgerald . which does neither' (Roach 2007: 36). Indeed. In the brief scenelet that follows the number. merely the appreciation of a performer executing athletic vocal and/or physical feats. Roles reverse as Louise becomes maternal and Rose childlike and vulnerable. and therefore two bodies simultane- ously. 'Rose's Turn'. 'an image [.. in so doing. shrugging off the drive for stardom . beyond the physical life of the celebrity was a foundational component of divine kingship. I believe that the book musical form presents a fictive world in which non-celebrities have effigies. During a show-stopping performance. but nevertheless generally available by association when summoned from the enchanted memories of those imagining themselves in communication with the special. which decays and dies. like Elvis. in which each character is defined by his or her distance from that condition. Among the many qualities Roach ascribes to 'It' is the ability of the possessor to split. is the ability of ordinary people to rise to the level of the star. let us say . which are rewarded with applause if they impress. turn the musical theatre's star-making power upon herself. into two bodies.. easy to perceive but hard to define. never mind another musical number. 'the body natural. 1994: 107) . pauses the procession of the narrative fiction. It is in 'Rose's Turn' that she puts that faith to the ultimate test. The endurance of the 'body cinematic'.

he argues. it is necessary to place McMillin's descriptions in relation to his larger argument about musical theatre dramaturgy. McMillin's two orders of time. the 'body cinematic'. on the other hand.1 is one possible explanation for why characters prefer to announce their identities in lyric time than in book time. Both plot and character. it is not progressive. The character. for example. frozen in time by the Utopian. people who live in narrative 'book time') transcend the limitations of the mundane self to gain. 'Lyric time'. mortal. humble.My thesis is inspired by Scott McMillin's struggle to articulate the nature of the sung character in The Musical as Drama (2006). then. the effigy. as opposed to the more mutable book 'self. Consider the preponderance of musical theatre songs that announce and celebrate the self. because it is frozen in time.. In contrast to the long-running discourse of the 'integrated musical'. however. narrative progression and order. then. or offstage. moves and speaks with his or her 'body natural' . As a result..] from a beginning through a middle to an end' and is 'organized by cause and effect' McMillin 2006: 6-9). 'engagement in the song itself is not dialectical. What emerges. For audience members.e. lyric 'self is stable. From the character's perspective. 'And I Am Telling You I'm T had a dream': 'Rose's Turn'. repetitive space of the lyric. musical theatre and the star effigy 287 . while the latter 'is organized [. immortality. which risks a semiotic collapse by seeming to be 'a line that signifies itself. one built on progression and the other on stasis. in which time moves not forward but around. Characters with songs are 'larger' than others because the songs 'extend their characters musically' (McMillin 2006: 67). 'book time' is a mimetic representation of the time of our everyday. When describing It is worth exploring whether a similar process divides recitative from aria in what happens to a character when it is given musical voice. The list of examples includes many of the greatest songs in the musical theatre canon: 'I'm Just a Girl Who Can't Say No'.. The immortal. this transformation. when not singing. 52). it is repetitive' (McMillin 2006: 37). takes over. most pronounced if not unique in the musical.] by principles of repetition' and 'suspends book time' through 'the repeated combinations of phrases and rhythms' (McMillin 2006: 9. lives . He then divides the musical into two temporal realities. 31 ). In other words. McMillin places the 'crackle of difference' between spoken dialogue and music at the centre of the musical's dramatic structure (McMillin 2006: 2). mesmerizing quality of 'It'. thanks in large part to the refrain around which most musical theatre songs are structured. opera.. 'I'm Still Here'. The former order of time 'moves [. that it 'intensiljiesj the dramatic moment and give[sj it a special glow of performance' (McMillin 2006: 42. in essence. When the character 'rises' in song.recognizable. is the stable effigy of the singing character over and above the mortal character-in-speech. are perfectly conditioned to generate the 'two bodies' of Roach's celebrities. is a representation of a more radical experience of temporality.lives that follow clocks. are built on 'the tension between two orders of time. To understand the relationship between this mystical language and the 'It' effect of musical theatre characters. T Am What I Am'. one for the book and one for the numbers' (McMillin 2006: 6). and seems to circle back on itself. musical theatre involves watching 'real' people (i. McMillin's language takes its place among centuries of vague descriptions of the seemingly magical. if such a thing were possible' (McMillin 2006: 111). He writes that music 'carries the characters into new versions of themselves'.

'(My) Corner of the Sky'. 'Hello everybody.'a pause [in book time] is a pause even when the characters in the book hear it as a pause' (McMillin 2006: 105). it yields the playfulness of musical theatre. is the same in both categories . my name's_!' It is crucial to remember. But because diegetic numbers create an inner performer-spectator relationship within the fictive world constructed by the actual spectators. at which point she pushes the limits of the game too far. this tension is productive. The latter. as their own. would not have been possible without Jennifer Holliday's physical and vocal performance. Examples of diegetic numbers include 'Honey Bun' from South Pacific. the same characters become Dainty June. Dolly'. Gypsy is no exception. an audience is necessary to receive the 'It' performance. and so to construct a character's effigy in lyric time. for example. Gypsy engages this subject matter by being a backstage musical. On the other hand. '(I Am) Sixteen Going on Seventeen'. 'My Time of Day'. And let us not forget that the point of 'Some People' is to get to the essence of Rose's character. The very subject of Gypsy is the musical theatre's potential to create stars. structured within the frame of theatrical fictionmaking. however. Caroline the 'Moo' Cow and. that the pleasure of the musical for the spectator .the pleasure of vicarious participation in a world in which people (characters) speak through their effigies .is built on the fundamental illusion of the theatre. problematizes the relationship between the book musical and the celebrity effigy. McMillin argues that the principle of character 'expansion'. to hear the repetitive rhythmic structure of its music. During 'When Momma was Married' or 'Little Lamb'. Gypsy Rose Lee. yields a tension: on the one hand. then. are songs that. are not recognized as performances in the world of the book. the onstage characters are named June and Louise. When performing their various iterations of 'Let Me Entertain You'. 'Hello. available only in the lyric time of musical performance. sometimes represented onstage but more often stood in for by the real-world spectators. Gypsy is built on the difference between diegetic and non-diegetic numbers. unlike diegetic numbers. It is no surprise that Gypsy. the ability to create time-stopping effigies. and calls its characters by different names depending on which kind of number they're performing.Not Going'. In most musicals. which McMillin calls 'out-of-the-blue numbers' (McMillin 2006: 112). The art of'It' is a performer's art. This aporia in the effigy-building project of musical theatre. for example. Eurthermore. 'A Bushel and a Peck' from Guys and Dolls and i Am What I Am' from La Cage Aux Folks. '(I'm Only a) Cock-eyed Optimist'. all of which are performed by characters to imaginary audiences. by trying to claim the privileges of it' without the need of either performer or audience. and thus employing both diegetic and non-diegetic musical numbers. audience members may vicariously claim the expressive powers of the musical's major characters. The icon of the fallen but fierce Effie White in the original production of Dreamgirls. as is true of any audience member's vicarious experience. These latter figures are the effigies of June and 28S Jason Fitzgerald . through 'Rose's Turn'. and that each performance of 'Let Me Entertain You' begins with. it is the relationship between performer and spectator. 'Don't Cry for Me Argentina'. that creates those expressive powers in the first place. later. until Momma Rose sings 'Rose's Turn'. they are useful in generating a meta-theatrical awareness of the musical's form.

at times.. that while Rose was standing behind them. forcing herself onstage with them (Laurents et al. The stage directions state that Rose's voice is first heard 102).2 Auslander makes a similar argument for the relationship between spectator and concert musician that 1 do between spectator and musical theatre character: 'from out front'.A. To carry the point even further. Gypsy's audience members may realize. 1994: 41). Rose never has a diegetic number of her own. and the play would be over.3 crossing first the boundary between real-world audience and real-world stage. the musical world before us. Since diegetic numbers ask the audience to stand in for the imaginary audience of the onstage fiction. Ausländern musical persona and Roach's celebrity effigy meet at the same aisle and onto the stage' (Laurents et al. as she grows older and more inappropriate for the part. continuously birthing her daughters' onstage identities. but Momma Rose herself.knowing every line and movement of the Dainty June numbers and. In terms of Gypsy as a theatrical event. 1994: 5). as the stage directions indicate. and she seems.as Momma. When D. with Rose.Louise. he correctly identifies Momma Rose's power to construct. Miller describes 'the stage' of Gypsy as an 'extension. 'and onto the stage' (Laurents et al. between the real-world audience of Gypsy and the imaginary audiences of the diegetic numbers. if Rose were ever given her own stage time. Rose positions herself. 1994: 5). at this moment. consequently. not the performer. in perspective if not always in sympathy. ironically making June even more Rose's exclusive property (until. musical theatre and the star effigy 289 . Auslander adapts his terminology from David Graver. Philip Auslander might refer to the diegetic versions of these charac- 2. Approaching this phenomenon from a different theoretical perspective. The more grotesque Dainty June's performances become. at least in part. she would no longer require her daughters to fulfil her dream of stardom. Rose holds firm to her posi- tion as prime spectator . Rose's relationship with her daughters parallels the vicarious relationship between audience and musical theatre character I've already described. so the audience of Gypsy always remains aligned. She wants to be the star that she turns her daughters into . This suggests that the audience. In terms of Gypsy's fictional plot. the same is true. The precarious system of vicariousness and embodiment between 'I had a dream': 'Rose's Turn'. of course. At the same time. plays the most decisive role in the process of identity formation' (Auslander 2006: 114). then.. and then the boundary between Uncle Jocko's audience and Jocko's own stage. and that she enters by 'coming down the 'Personae are always negotiated between musicians and their audiences [. In the case of Dainty June. ours). This principle only increases as the plot moves forward. he argues. to occupy both roles. vanishing point: the indelible image produced by the star. the spectator most responsible for constructing her persona is not the fictional audience of the vaudeville circuit. ters as their 'musical personae'. when she disappears from Rose's view and. a universalisation' of the 'body of [the] Stage Mother' (Miller 1998: 74).]. they were sharing her point of view. June's courageous escape. Her entrance cuts through both spaces by 'coming down the aisle'. Significantly. the more Rose becomes the only spectator whose gaze constructs Dainty June out of June Havoc. which. But the metaphor should be adjusted: she is an extension not of the stage but of the audience. in at least one instance. who conjures up Dainty June through sheer will and vision. are the identities that musicians 'perform' when they play or sing for their audiences in concerts and other non-dramatic contexts (Auslander 2006: 3.

onstage audience) nor non-diegetic (heard only by the real-world audience). In effect. subject and object. the perpetual spectator. that has underlain the entire performance of Gypsy. 'Some People' and 'Everything's Coming Up Roses'. 1994: 104). and no refrain is maintained for long. she is trying to see. suggesting that Rose herself has heard them. and her persona is not constructed by Rose. in defiance. but Rose almost succeeds in her ambition. With no star left to erect and no children left to mother. 1994: 99). lifting Rose's character into lyric time as so many musical characters have done before her. with predictable inner repetitions and refrains heard by the audience. This liminality is what is so compelling about 'Rose's Turn'. That she is unable to pronounce her own identity./or you ain't' is the audience's prerogative. Louise has become a star of burlesque.'what I been holding down inside of me' (Laurents et al. The drama of that number is the attempt by Rose to close the gap between these two polarities. vicariousness and embodiment. The intensity of Rose's need to gain an immortal 'body cinematic' is no less than the audience members' to gain ones for themselves. 'Momma'. Though pushed onstage by Rose's own hand. is the first indisputable sign of failure: she cannot be audience and performer. and so 'Rose's Turn' appears to be a number that is neither diegetic (evoking an imaginary.. but liminal. in the real-world audience. and that she is trying to capture for herself the glory with which we have imbued her. wills her own musical persona. Rose tries at last to turn her powers onto herself. Whether 'You [. 1994: 96). is built from the scraps of these and other earlier songs. breaks down in 'Rose's Turn'. Gypsy is quite literally not a child anymore: i'm not my mothah!' she tells her audience as she removes her dress. as Gypsy. 'Rose's Turn'. has lured both the 290 Jason Fitzgerald .. as is the right to announce the performer in the third person: 'Ready or not. 'Rose's Turn' would not be memorable if it did not create. who. the king's two bodies. The song itself is markedly different from Rose's two prior star turns. Rose is trapped in the language of the spectator. These numbers are built on traditional. mother and child. When she declares to Gypsy. 1994: 105). at once. After working tirelessly to make first June and then Louise into vaudeville stars.Rose and her daughters. herself into celebrity. and she goes on to test this theory.] got it. without the assistance of an outside gaze. here comes Momma!' (Laurents et al. brings Louise her cow head from the Dainty June act to remind her that her 'goal was to become a great actress. and so somehow. up to that point. AABA (plus variations) popular song formats. not a cheap stripper' (Laurents et al. Rose. The music is dissonant. inflicting untold pain on her actual mother's ego (Laurents et al. pleading for release . the impression of a woman who is able to call forth her immortal effigy at will. in her new role. By the end of the second act. But even from this opening moment. has become displaced. on the other hand. and so to gain it'. as we have. real. Rose wills herself as her own audience. More fundamentally. daringly. proving that it' is not exclusive to the imprurient. i made you!' she implies that the audience's power to construct a star includes the power to become one itself. Rose even speaks of an effigy that is within her. and between the audience and Rose. the newly emergent Gypsy Rose Lee negates Rose's role as both mother and spectator. Gypsy's audience is worldwide.

Princeton. Arthur. (2009). 'Musical Personae'. it. musical theatre and the star effigy'. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. References Auslander. leaving LuPone behind. I'm giving a standing ovation to the star performer.285/l Contributor details Jason Fitzgerald earned his MFA in Dramaturgy and Dramatic Criticism from Yale School of Drama in 2008. (1998). Patti LuPone. asking her to accept our presence and adoration. For if Rose's project were indeed successful. Louise's entrance reasserted the semiotics of theatrical fiction-making . or ours. to applaud for a character rather than an actor is madness. "I had a dream': 'Rose's Turn'. Laurents. was left to reckon with myself. MA: Harvard University Press. Joseph (2007). He is currently a teaching fellow at Yale College and a freelance theatre reviewer in New York City. The effect of Rose's becoming her own spectator is achieved by break- ing the harmony between musical theatre performer and character. Gypsy. Roach. Broadway Musical. or at least. pp. For a split second of perception.audience and the character into a fictive belief in any individual's poten- tial to become a star. The Drama Review. But by effacing herself. Stephen and Styne. she has tried to (Miller 1998: 117). McMillin. D. Miller describes it best: 'Rose has become the negation of the Star who plays her'. Philip (2006). Cambridge. the effigy had become more real than the performer who created her. Garebian. T had a dream': 'Rose's Turn'.1386/smt. The Musical as Drama. Sondheim. and his AB from Harvard College in 2004. with her mundane body natural. Keith (1994). Jule (1994). to become a living effigy of herself. Toronto: ECW Press. 100-19. dream. Miller. since she no longer requires her assistance. NJ: Princeton University Press. If LuPone. New York: Theater Communications Group. she should be able to walk off the stage and through the audience (from whence she came). 50: 1.3. I. LuPone's continuing to bow beyond the applause at the end of the number is terrifying because. LuPone abandoned me when I needed her most.A. Scott (2006). I could have immediately disavowed my lapse of rationality. A Place for Us: Essay on the. having applauded a now-vanished effigy. D. The Making of Gypsy. in the fictional world of Gypsy. as the surviving witness to Rose's mad. we had believed Momma Rose had succeeded. as before. Studies in Musical Theatre 3: 3. I might have said if I were there. or at least. had broken character. 285-291.only characters applaud for other characters . in this case. Of course. musical theatre and the star effigy 291 . pp. steal- ing the microphone from. but seductive. doi: 10. for a moment.3. like Ethel Merman in the original production oí Gypsy.leaving Rose trapped. Suggested citation Fitzgerald. 'Rose's Turn' creates the daring excitement that that potential can be realized.A. Of course. J. we had wanted to believe so badly that we had stood up and applauded her.

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