Universal’s announcement today that Barbra Streisand’s Gypsy is going forward with Oscar- and Emmy- winning writer Julian Fellowes (Gosford Park, Downton Abbey) assigned to adapt the musical is stirring much Internet talk (and chatter among Deadline commenters). They say Streisand is just too old to take on the iconic role of Rose, the bigger-than-life stage mother of stripper Gypsy Rose Lee. But with her landmark 70th birthday looming on April 24th, Streisand knows it is now or never. And with a potential hit comedy — The Guilt Trip co-starring Seth Rogen — scheduled for release by Paramount on November 2nd, her movie career is on an upswing, and she probably feels the time is right for one last, hopefully great, screen musical and the one iconic stage musical role she’s never played. No word yet on who will direct, but it’s not likely to be Streisand — although that would be interesting. She hasn’t directed a musical since Yentl in 1983 or a movie since The Mirror Has Two Faces in 1996.
The part is so strong it could be major awards fodder, a thought probably not lost on Streisand, who has won two Academy Awards (Best Actress for Funny Girl in 1968 and as co-writer of 1976’s best song, “Evergreen”, from A Star Is Born) but has only been Oscar-nominated twice for her acting and not since 1973’s The Way We Were.
Playing Rose earned Rosalind Russell a Best Actress Comedy or Musical Golden Globe for the 1962 Warner Bros film version as well as a Globe for Bette Midler in the 1993 TV movie remake. Midler was nominated for an Emmy but lost, and Russell failed to even get a Best Actress Oscar nomination, in big part because almost all her singing was dubbed. Reportedly the stage team wanted Judy Garland, but she was busy. If Garland had played Rose I doubt we’d be having this conversation about Streisand right now. Who would want to follow that?
The 1962 movie, which was directed by Mervyn LeRoy and co-starred Karl Malden and Natalie Wood, will celebrate its 50th anniversary on November 1st and is ripe for a remake since it really never had the power of the stage play, which won a 1960 Tony nomination for its star Ethel Merman and has been revived on Broadway four times since winning Best Actress in a Musical Tonys for Angela Lansbury (1975), Tyne Daly (1990) and most recently Patti LuPone (2007).
So by the time Streisand gets around to doing this she may be 71 or even 72, which in real-life terms would mean she would have given birth to her kids in her 50s (the real-life Rose did all that in her 20s). And if an actress like Anne Hathaway is cast as Gypsy, audiences probably would have to accept the fact there are really 40 years between them and just believe. But we are talking Barbra Streisand and perhaps the greatest musical role ever written for a woman. It’s worth a shot. Of all the famous Broadway and film Madame Roses, LuPone in 2007 was the oldest at 58. Bernadette Peters was 55 when she got a Tony nomination for her Rose in 2003, the same age Russell was when she did the only theatrical film in 1962. Merman was 51, Lansbury was 50, Midler was 48 and Daly was just a tyke at 44 when they all played the role, so Barbra has a good decade and then some on them all, which certainly will add intrigue to the project. It may be part of a developing trend among Hollywood stars now. Sally Field, at 64, just completed playing Mary Todd Lincoln, who was in her mid-40s during the events depicted in Steven Spielberg’s upcoming Lincoln, and she’s a full decade older than her co-star Daniel Day Lewis.
Barbra has played the age game before — on the opposite end of the scale. She caused great controversy being cast as much older matchmaker Dolly Levi in the 1969 film of Hello Dolly at the age of 27 over the legendary stage Dolly Carol Channing, who was 43 when she started playing the role in 1964 and is still singing those songs at 91. Shirley Booth was 60 in 1958 when she played Dolly Levi in the non-muscial version The Matchmaker, but Streisand pulled off the age gap then and I wouldn’t bet against her doing it now. But the clock is ticking on this one.