World’s Best Mama

About a month ago on a Friday night, I was introduced to a powerful, fierce, and desperate woman while lying in bed and snacking on some deliciously pre-made popcorn. While cuddled up in my cozy movie watching outfit, I pressed play on my laptop and started to immerse myself in the movie Gypsy.

Were there times were I wanted to fast forward through the movie? Yes. But were their times were I was genuinely MESMERIZED by Bette Midler’s performance as Mama Rose? Also, yes.

A little background for the people in the back who don’t know anything about this movie:  Gypsy is movie musical based on the memoir of the famed burlesque dancer Gypsy Rose Lee. Bette Midler, who actually won a Golden Globe for this performance, stars as Mama Rose, the world’s ultimate stage mom. Chasing fame, Momma Rose is destined to make her two baby girls the biggest stars in Vaudeville… no matter what the cost is. The musical features numerous production numbers that showcase the talents of various cast members including Peter Rieyer and Cynthia Gribb. Although written by playwriter Arthur Laurents in 1959, Emile Ardolino directs the 1993 version into a well-produced film that brings comedy and drama all into one place.

Okay now that everyone’s on the same page, let’s dive into what you came here for.

I think Gypsy allows audiences to engage with the idea of gender and sexuality in a positive way. So many times, we (women) are portrayed as weak minded and willing to do ANYTHING for men, even if that means giving away our biggest hopes and dreams. Although Gypsy doesn’t completely annihilate that entire ideology, we can see that women in this movie have a stronger role of being ambitious, unique, and headstrong bad-asses.

Some key elements within the movie that depict my clam include the musical number of  “Some People” sung by Rose. In this number, Mama Rose is singing about her dreams of making it into Vaudeville with her daughters through motivation. The song starts off with trumpets bellowing out, and you genuinely get the intention that the song is going to be fast-paced, energetic, and upbeat. Bette Midler then goes on for about a minute singing about how some people are lazy in the ways they go about success, but then she belts out the lyrics “But I at least got to try”.  In a usual film production, a female character would most likely continue the “Oh well, I tried” dialogue, but its enticing and different that Mama Rose is so driven to be triumphant in her goals. Thus, the lyrics and dialogue really show how ambitious she is; therefore, it emulates the positive representation of women in Gypsy.

Another example to support my claim of bad-assery among women includes the way Bette Midler performs Mama Rose. Everything about the character is over the top, and Midler delivers it with precision and passion, the only way that she knows how. Her ability to portray a mother who is in essence a shameless monster of a woman is admirable. She uses over-exaggerated movements to portray Mama Rose’s personality and excessive facial expressions to makes us believe in Mama Rose.

Lastly, the musical number that really stood out to me was the final performance from Rose “Rose’s Turn”. At this point, we’ve made it more than two hours into the movie, and we are waiting for Rose to finally have her turn in the spotlight. Before the song begins, Rose speaks about how if she ever let out her talent, “there wouldn’t be signs big enough, or lights bright enough” to even encompass her success. Overall, the song is chaotic. In the beginning, the lyrics and music are fiery and upbeat, and the way Midler performs as Rose, depicts how she is visualizing herself as a star. The second part of the song, Rose realizes that for the first time that she has to let go of the dreams that she has held for her daughters. The music completely changes and  for the first time, we see Mama Rose really become vulnerable with herself and this is shown when she whispers “Mama’s got to let go”. The third part of the song picks up again, and in a way Rose is angrier and continues to repeat the phrase “starting now…”. In the last part of the song, Rose finally realizes her potential and sees that she is able to be her own star and live her own dreams.

Overall, I thought Gypsy did a really great job at representing gender in a different and unique way that hasn’t been shown. I really felt connected to Mama Rose and was happy that she was finally able to let go and be the woman she always should have been.

9 thoughts on “World’s Best Mama

  1. I really loved your post! I also had a similar experience with Gypsy. I was so drawn to Mama Rose’s character as well as Bette Midler’s performance of this character. I found her work ethic and love for her daughters so inspiring, and as you put it, truly badass. She never gives up her dreams for her daughters no matter what the cost is, and I think she is a unique display of gender and sexuality. While she can be a lot for the other characters to deal with, it is seen how her ambition in a man’s world goes against all of the social norms for women.


  2. As someone who also wrote about Bette Midler’s Mama Rose, I really enjoy you bringing up how powerful of a woman Mama Rose is in Gypsy. The representation of gender in Gypsy really is different from what we have watched so far, because Mama Rose is someone who sort of takes a masculine role and is the boss throughout. Analyzing Mama Rose throughout her different musical numbers really captures who she is as a loving mother and as well as a woman who is driven to success. She is a woman who does not give up in any way. I think we really see the true Rose in the final number as well upon her realization that she is capable of acting on her own dreams. Overall, I really like how you brought attention to Mama Rose’s gender role and her sexuality because this is no doubt a powerful woman who many people may strive to be.


  3. I really enjoyed your post! Like you and the other commenters on this post, I really liked Mama Rose and Bette Middler’s execution of Mama Rose. Others might have different opinions, but I think that she is really powerful and inspiring for all women out there. She never gives up on her dreams and is capable to making them come true all by herself. She truly is a bad-ass and a boss. Even though it might seem like she puts her career above anything and anyone else, you can’t deny her maternal instincts and her motherly love to her daughters. Mama Rose is a unique representation of femininity and sexuality and we all love her for it.


  4. I could not agree more with your analysis on “Rose’s Turn” and “Some People”! Those were my two favorite numbers in this musical all because of Mama Rose. I had not yet thought about how a traditional depiction of a female protagonist would change the number “Some People” into a more resigned tone but I really like how you introduced this idea. I think by comparing how we would traditionally see a number like this done to how Gypsy portrays Mama Rose through this role it really emphasizes how unique of a character she is and was, especially at the time of this musical’s creation. I was also really happy with the conclusion for this musical because despite how villainous at times Mama Rose could seem, I always thought her intentions were good and she truly thought she was doing the best thing for her kids. For her to come full circle at the end and accept that she has to focus her dreams on herself rather than her children completes her character arc very nicely and I think it shows audiences how much she has grown throughout the timeline of the musical. However, the writers never do away with what you call her “bad-assery” and I love that she continues to embody this unique depiction of gender through to the very end. 


  5. I chuckled at your comment about wanting to fast-forward through some of the musical- I am so glad I am not the only one! I relate a lot to what you are saying about how Gypsy portrays womanhood in a “new” light- no, we do not always chase the man and give up our own dreams. I could not agree more with your analysis and think you did a great job of developing ethos at the beginning of your post. Well done!


  6. Hi!!! I love your post, I also wrote about Gypsy and thought Mama Rose was a really dynamite character. I love your interpretation of the character and how her finally letting go of her vaudeville dream allows her to be the beautiful and powerful woman she has always been – this is different than how I interpreted womanhood in Gypsy, but I believe that all ties back to your main point that this musical masterfully presents these dynamics of gender and power in performance. I think Mama Rose is entirely an image and icon of “bad-assery” just as you said and Bette Middler is always immaculate. Super cool essay I loved reading it.


  7. Hey! I’m really glad to have read your post because it reminded me about the redeeming qualities of Mama Rose. After watching the movie, I was hung up on her flaws — how controlling she was, how she neglected her youngest daughter and alienated her oldest, and how she refused to accept love from someone because of pride… BUT, I forgot to appreciate her ambition, passion, and spunk. You’re certainly right that we don’t usually get powerful female characters like Mama Rose. Thanks for reminding me to appreciate the good in the Mama Rose. Your essay is really empowering!

    -Sophia D’Agostino


  8. First off, I really like how your voice shines through in your writing! As you pointed out, musicals definitely have a nack for giving female characters little to no agency. It’s always refreshing when we see the narrative shift. Mama Rose is such a dynamic character. Yes, she’s a mother. Yes, she’s trying to do what’s best for her kids. But trying to live her dreams through them speaks to a self-ishness that we don’t typically see within female musical characters. Whatever agency is given to female characters is typically within a familial frame, or in relation to a man. It’s pretty unique that Mama Rose ultimately shifts her focus to achivening her own dreams. This is a way that she exerts agency outside of a familial frame.


  9. I really enjoyed your response because it incredibly engaging as I felt as though I was watching the musical with you. Your analysis was incredibly done and I think what stood out to me was how you were able to eloquently explain how Mama Rose’s character contradicts what women were expected to be during that time. While women were expected to be subservient and rely on men to succeed, Mama Rose takes on a more masculine role to make sure that her dreams become a reality. Not only does she not allow herself to rely on men, it is amazing to see how “she is a shameless monster” that will do anything to get success even if it means using unethical tactics. I think what fascinates me the most is that when men do this it is considered to be brave, or celebrated but when women do it, they are seen as “shameless”. Isn’t fascinating that strong women continue to be condemned for traits that should be celebrated?


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