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. · Go to Arthur Laurents scrappy papa of the ulti­mate stage momma →