Jule Styne and Stephen Sondheim's score for Gypsy has had five major recordings: the 1959 original Broadway cast album starring Ethel Merman; the 1962 original motion picture soundtrack starring Rosalind Russell, partially dubbed by Lisa Kirk; the 1973 London cast album starring Angela Lansbury; the 1989 Broadway revival cast album starring Tyne Daly; and here, the 1993 television soundtrack starring Bette Midler. The casting of Midler as Rose, the ultimate stage mother, seemed ideal; she is an accomplished actress with a theatrical background and a well-known singer with a feisty personality. The production made a point of sticking to the original show, and the supporting players, Peter Riegert, Cynthia Gibb, and Jennifer Beck (who actually got a fair amount of singing time, along with some others) were excellent. But any production of Gypsy stands or falls on the actress who plays Rose, and Midler turned out to be able to handle some aspects of the part, but not all. As a pop singer, she was too accustomed to being ingratiating and sympathetic to be as much of a monster as Rose is supposed to be, and she didn't quite have the voice for the more demanding songs. On "Small World," "You'll Never Get Away from Me," and "Together, Wherever We Go," songs in which Rose is being as nice as possible, Midler was fine. But in the more confrontational numbers, such as "Some People" and "Everything's Coming Up Roses," she didn't go far enough. You'd have thought that would make Rose's climactic nervous breakdown, "Rose's Turn," beyond Midler, too, but actually she brought that off well, adapting the performance to the small screen. On the whole, then, Midler did a respectable job, but not the one she was capable of, if she had worked harder. As such, this Gypsy, while a vast improvement over the disastrous movie soundtrack, was on a par with the Tyne Daly revival, but not a patch on Angela Lansbury's well-acted version or Ethel Merman's definitive interpretation.
Review by William Ruhlmann