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E. Faye Butler Lands the Role She Said She’d Sell a Grandkid to Play

The seven-time Jeff Award winner portrays the iconic diva Rose in Gypsy, running October 12 to November 25 at Porchlight Music Theatre.

Photo: Rob Riddle

You once said in an interview, “I want to play Mama Rose in Gypsy so desperately, I will sell my first grandchild to play that role.” What about her so enthralled you?

Some people look at her just as a stage mother with a big voice. I think she’s so much more complicated. She desperately wants love, which she’s never really had. She’s had issues as a parent. And there’s a real sex appeal to her. You can love her, you can hate her, you can cheer for her.

As a black actress playing a traditionally white role, how much do you feel you have to address race in the performance?

You want the audience to take the journey and not get bogged down in semantics: Is this racially correct? Is that going to work? You don’t want to have to explain every choice. I also did not want to do an all–African American cast. I wanted to tell this story in a real, diverse world.

Rose is based on a real person, the mother of burlesque entertainer Gypsy Rose Lee. Did you do a lot of research for the role, or did you find your character in the text?

I’ve done some general research on who Rose Hovick was — or who they say she was — but at heart I think Gypsy is a fable. She’s taken out of [historical] context. Even Gypsy Rose Lee said, “Well, it’s mostly based on stuff that happened.”

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