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5 Musicals Showcasing ‘Stage Moms’

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(L–R) Betty Buckley and Rachel York in "Grey Gardens" at the Ahmanson Theatre.

Photo by Craig Schwartz.

Set against the backdrop of a crumbling home in East Hampton, New York, Grey Gardens focuses upon the mother-daughter relationship between the reclusive Edith Ewing “Big Edie” Bouvier Beale and her daughter, Little Edie. Big Edie is the opposite of a stage mom—at least according to Little Edie, she dashed her daughter’s showbiz dreams—but she is part of a great tradition of musical onstage moms. To prepare yourself for Grey Gardens, running at the Ahmanson Theatre through August 14, 2016, here are five more musicals focused on “stage moms” and their children.

  1. The Light in the Piazza

    Ciao! Based on the 1960 novella of the same name by Elizabeth Spencer, The Light in the Piazza tells the story of a developmentally challenged young woman, Clara, and her overbearing mother, Margaret. When Clara falls in love with a starry-eyed Italian while vacationing in Florence, her mother must come to terms with the fact that while her daughter may be a little different, “she mustn’t be made to accept less from life just because she isn't like you or me.” The original 2005 Broadway production featured Victoria Clark as Margaret, for which she won the Tony Award®, and six-time Tony nominee Kelli O’Hara as her daughter.

  2. Gypsy

    The true star of the 1959 musical Gypsy isn’t the eponymous real-life striptease artist Gypsy Rose Lee but her mother, Rose, who is the ultimate stage mom, and who has been played over the years by Ethel Merman, Bernadette Peters, and Patti Lupone. In the famous tune “Rose’s Turn,” it becomes clear just how bitter Rose is that her children are more successful than she ever was: “If it wasn’t for me / then where would you be, Miss Gypsy Rose Lee? / Well, someone tell me when is it my turn? / Don’t I get a dream for myself?” The part of Mama Rose is regularly lauded as one of Broadway’s most iconic roles of all time; when the 2003 Broadway revival opened, The New York Times’ Ben Brantley described the character as musical theatre’s most daunting maternal role.

  3. Mamma Mia!

    After bride-to-be Sophie tries to find her birth father so he can walk her down the aisle, hilarity ensues in this smash hit featuring music from Swedish rock group ABBA. In the song “Slipping Through My Fingers,” Sophie’s mother, Donna, is forced to come to terms with the fact that her little girl isn’t so little anymore: “Do I really see what’s in her mind / each time I think I’m close to knowing / she keeps on growing / slipping through my fingers all the time.” The original Broadway production played 5,758 performances, making it the eighth-longest running production in Broadway history and the longest running jukebox musical of all time. Mamma mia!

  4. Carrie

    Growing up is no easy feat, especially with (and for) an overprotective mother—at least according to Stephen King. In the Broadway musical version of the book and movie, Margaret, mother to high school misfit Carrie, turns to the bible to deal with the reality that her little girl has become a women. Originally portrayed on Broadway in 1988 by Grey Gardens’ very own Betty Buckley, Margaret sings of her twisted hopes for her daughter early in the show: “Father, don’t forsake her / Father, take her / cleanse and purify her with the fire!” But by the time the curtain falls, things have taken a gruesome turn. Public opinion of Carrie is sharply divided; The New Yorker said that the show may be the most legendary flop of all time.

  5. Hairspray

    Tracy Turnblad, a precocious girl who just wants to dance in 1960s Baltimore, has a few things in common with Little Edie despite being a member of a different generation. Both young women want to get out of the house and into the wider world. Both believe they have a talent for dancing. And both have mothers who don’t want to leave the comfort of their house. Tracy, however, introduces her reclusive mother to the foreign world past her front door: “I know tha: the world’s spinning fast now / But you gotta run the race to win the prize / Hey mama, welcome to the ’60s.” Interestingly, the maternal role is commonly portrayed by a man; Divine (1988 film), Harvey Fierstein (2002 Broadway production), and John Travolta (2007 Musical film) have all donned slippers and a robe to portray this famous “stage mom.”

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