It was 1989. I was working at Orion Pictures Corporation where the trade papers, Variety and the Hollywood Reporter, were delivered to everyone daily. One day I came across an article mentioning that one of my favorite musicals, Gypsy, was on tour in Los Angeles and would soon return to Broadway. This time around, television star Tyne Daly was playing the leading role of Rose. That seemed like an inspired casting idea: she had played a tough cop on television and that kind of persona seemed right for the part. I was happy that the critics already agreed.
My recording of Angela Lansbury’s Gypsy cast album had been one of the joys of my existence during the two years I’d attended a rather horrific and abusive school, the full story of which I might reveal someday in a book. A few others were Angela Lansbury’s recordings of Jerry Herman’s Mame and Dear World, not to mention Kander and Ebb’s Cabaret and Chicago. The other kids may have been rocking out to Elton John, and I discovered and loved his work a few years later, but theater kids dance to a whole different beat. Angela’s Gypsy record had been one of my all-time favorites. It still is.
I went over to the St. James Theater to get my Orchestra seat for one of the first matinees of this new Tyne Daly Gypsy. Then I made the mistake of telling the petty little jerk behind the ticket window that the show was “getting great reviews.” The guy was about my age at the time – in his twenties – and laughed right in my face. “There are no reviews yet,” he sneered at me with what he believed was intellectual superiority. “It hasn’t opened yet.” There he stood, a ticket seller who thought it was perfectly normal to alienate a customer. Well, he could have alienated a paid companion. I knew the type all too well.
“It’s opened in LA,” I sweetly shot back at the little tyrant, “and it’s been reviewed there – in their trade papers. Where I work, we get them daily.” Oh, the appalled look on his face! It was quite a sight!
I was thrilled to go back to that theater a few days later for the matinee, for two reasons. First, the tyrant wasn’t in the box office that day so I didn’t have to see his smug little face again, and second, because years ago, while a child, I had only been given the chance to see Angela Lansbury in Gypsy on Broadway once. Now, at last, the show was finally back, and here I was.
Gypsy has a score that includes what has often been called the very best musical Overture in theatrical history, and it was a thrill when the lights went off and the band finally started to play it. After the series of “I Had a Dream” notes that are in quite a few of the songs, “Ev’rything’s Coming Up Roses” is the rousing first part of the Overture. It segued into the softer “You’ll Never Get Away from Me” and “Small World.” By then, I had started to cry, remembering all those days when I was a kid, attending a school that I had hated with a passion, yet lifting myself up and into another world every day by listening to this beautiful score on my parents’ old hi-fi.
Then it happened. The Overture went into the next song, and it was the best part of the number: the Burlesque stripper music with the trumpet solo that always causes the audience to cheer. It worked this time, too. I wasn’t crying anymore. I was laughing, enjoying that part of the piece to the hilt, and then cheering along with everybody else. That trumpet was rocking the house. Gypsy really was back on Broadway! Now would Tyne Daly be as great as her L.A. reviews?
The Overture ended a minute later, the curtain opened on the first scene of Uncle Jocko’s Kiddie Show with “Mama” Rose’s daughters entering the talent competition. Suddenly, there was Tyne Daly as Rose, barreling up the aisle, bellowing to one of them, “Sing out, Louise! Sing out!” She nailed that role from those five words onward. Nobody was surprised when, later that season, she won a Tony Award for her performance as Rose. That woman had been born to play Rose. I had never seen such a powerful performance by anyone in anything. I particularly loved the way Tyne Daly delivered the song “Ev’rything’s Coming Up Roses.” The lyrics are optimistic and joyous but the scene itself is not. Rose’s daughter June, the star of the family act, has run away to elope, leaving her with Louise, the untalented other sister. Rose claims she’s going to make Louise a star now and sings the song to her, and in context, it’s crazy – this child can’t sing or dance. A star? The audience gasps. Angela Lansbury had sung the song in a positive manner, but Tyne Daly sings it in a fury, her eyes so steely they gave me chills every time I saw it. I went back to see it a lot.
Meanwhile, the company where I worked, Orion Pictures, was going out of business. No one there was telling the employees anything about what was happening, but we were reading all about it in the newspaper. Several months after the Tyne Daly Gypsy opened, I could read the writing on the Orion wall and knew it was time to start looking for another job. Fully inspired by the performances I kept going back to the St. James Theater to see, and encouraged by a family friend who was an agent in L.A., I decided to see what it would be like to work in a talent agency. I had majored in Theater/Media but wasn’t a performing artist. Working with actors in an agency and helping to manage their careers sounded fascinating. I sent out about a hundred resumes to talent agencies all over New York, thinking it would probably take six months before I could get situated elsewhere. What a pleasant surprise it turned out to be that within one short week I already had eight interviews lined up.
Here comes the best part.
When I met the talent agent who was to become my next boss, he was wearing a Broadway show jacket – from Gypsy. I had to blink a few times when I saw it, not quite believing it, but yes, that really was a Gypsy jacket. And rather than his actual name, Michael Hartig, what was stitched onto the lapel of his jacket was “Tyne’s Agent.” I was going to be working for an agent who was thoroughly involved in my favorite Broadway production – and represented Tyne Daly, who by then had won her Tony. Some developments can appear when you’re not even looking for them and then turn out to be almost perfect. The way my new job started was one of the best of those.