Arthur Laurents might have secured his place in the musical-theater pantheon with just three words: “Sing out, Louise!” As any lover of Broadway musicals knows, that is the first line spoken — or rather bellowed — by Momma Rose, the monster mother in “Gypsy,” as she races down the aisle of a dingy Seattle theater to take charge of an audition going awry. With those three words Momma Rose instantly claims her place as one of the most vital, funny and memorable characters in the history of the American stage. And she does it without singing a note.
The central theme of “Gypsy,” the destructive potential in the yearning for acceptance, is encapsulated in a few beats of dialogue, as Louise, now Gypsy Rose Lee, joins Rose onstage and finally asks the question: What drove her mother so relentlessly to seek the spotlight for her daughters, even if its heat burned away their love for her?
“Just wanted to be noticed,” Rose answers, in a moment of defeated illumination.
“Like I wanted you to notice me,” Louise replies.
In a dozen words: two lives, infinite loss, and a devastating coda to an immortal work of musical theater.