Theater archives

Betty Buckley Reveals Battle With Arthur Laurents–And So Do I!


In 1998, Betty Buckley played the immortal stage-mother role of Mama Rose in the Papermill Playhouse of Gypsy, with Debbie Gibson as the title character.

It was good (I saw it, naturally), with Buckley bringing her customary wells of emotion to the material.

And it was going to transfer to Toronto (and who knows, maybe other places after that), but for that to happen, the move had to be approved by composer Stephen Sondheim and book writer Arthur Laurents.

Well, the two titans came to a performance, which Buckley felt knocked it out of the park. It was a solid show and the star was confident they’d give it a thumbs up

And sure enough Sondheim was smiling afterward, but not Laurents, who was known to be one of the more persnickety queens who ever lived.

“Obviously you’re a virtuoso,” he told Buckley, “but you don’t know how to play Rose.”

Ouch. Boo. Hiss. And with that, all Buckley’s dreams of the Orpheum circuit went kaput. No transfer.

On a whole other note, I once wrote that Laurents was chilly to me at an event when I approached him for a comment. But after I wrote about that supposed dis, Laurents left a nice message on my home machine, saying that he hadn’t been dissing me at all.

And it gets better: After I wrote up the nice phone message, Stephen Sondheim faxed that column to Laurents and scrawled in the margin, “You certainly know the right people! Love, Steve.”

Maybe they would have starred me in Gypsy in Toronto.

Below photograph by Brian Christopher Cummings on March 20, 2013. Library of Congress Arthur Laurents Collection, Box 109.