Audra McDonald to Star in ‘Gypsy’ Revival on Broadway This Fall

Audra McDonald has been dreaming of “Gypsy” since she was a 10-year-old in Fresno, Calif., with a small part in a dinner theater production of the musical. She played one of the children in a vaudeville act called “Uncle Jocko’s Kiddie Show,” and ever since, she said, “Gypsy” has remained “very much alive in my brain.”

McDonald, who has won more competitive Tony Awards than any other performer in history, has for years been thinking about the show’s main character, a domineering stage mother named Rose. She has even sung from the musical’s score at some of her concerts.

Now, McDonald, 53, will play Rose in a Broadway revival of “Gypsy” opening later this year.

“It’s one of the great roles in musical theater, and I’ve always thought maybe some day I could try it,” McDonald said in an interview. “It scares me to death, but I certainly feel old enough now, and having experienced motherhood, perhaps I have what is needed to dive in and explore her and all that she is.”

The production, directed by George C. Wolfe and choreographed by Camille A. Brown, is to begin previews on Nov. 21 and open Dec. 19 at the Majestic Theater, which has been under renovation since last year’s closing of “The Phantom of the Opera.” (That show ran there for 35 years.)

“Gypsy,” first staged on Broadway in 1959, is inspired by the memoir of Gypsy Rose Lee, a stripper who reflects on her relationship with her mother. The musical’s Rose is ravenously hungry for fame for her daughters, or maybe for herself. The role was originated by Ethel Merman, and has since been played on Broadway by Angela Lansbury, Tyne Daly, Linda Lavin, Bernadette Peters and Patti LuPone, on film by Rosalind Russell and on television by Bette Midler.

McDonald said she sees “Gypsy,” which features music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and a book by Arthur Laurents, as “a perfect musical” and called Rose a “deeply flawed and brilliantly alive character.” She recalled that in a 1989 review in The New York Times, Frank Rich wrote, “‘Gypsy’ is nothing if not Broadway’s own brassy, unlikely answer to ‘King Lear.’”

McDonald has appeared in 13 Broadway shows. Most recently, she starred in a 2022 production of the Adrienne Kennedy play “Ohio State Murders.” She has been nominated for Tony Awards 10 times; her six wins were for roles in “Carousel,” “Master Class,” “Ragtime,” “A Raisin in the Sun,” “Porgy and Bess” and “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill.” She is the only person who has won Tonys in four different acting categories (leading and featured in musicals and plays).

Wolfe previously directed McDonald in the 2016 Broadway production of “Shuffle Along, or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed,” as well as in last year’s Netflix film “Rustin.” Wolfe won Tony Awards for directing “Angels in America: Millennium Approaches” and “Bring in da Noise, Bring in da Funk” and this year is receiving a special Tony Award for lifetime achievement.

Wolfe said in an interview that McDonald asked him to direct the production, and added that he has a personal connection to one of the authors — Laurents was among his teachers at N.Y.U. in the early 1980s, and became an early supporter of his career. He called “Gypsy” “a really great piece of theater literature” and Rose “one of the best written roles in the musical theater canon.”

He said that his ideas for the production were still evolving. “The thing that keeps on resonating with me is the idea of not enough: not enough space, not enough love, not enough money,” Wolfe said. “That’s what’s pulling me in.”

The “Gypsy” revival — which will be the sixth production of the show on Broadway — is being lead produced by Tom Kirdahy and Mara Isaacs, who are also among the lead producers of “Hadestown.”

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