The story, which begins in the early 1920s, concerns Rose(Bette Midler), the world’s most relentless stage mother, who lovingly but unremittingly drives her two daughters, June and Louise, and their small, rag-tag vaudeville troupe, across America, from theater to theater, in search of success.
But success proves elusive. As the years pass and vaudeville’s popularity begins to fade, the act wears thin. Only Herbie(Peter Riegert), the warm, likeable theater veteran who is in love with Rose, manages to hold the family together. When June suddenly elopes and runs away, Rose turns her full fury into transforming the shy Louise Cynthia Gibb) into a star.
Life goes from bad to worse when Herbie unknowingly books the act into a run-down burlesque house. Upon learning that one of the strippers is unable to perform, Rose pushes the demure Louise to the fore. Louise, introduced as “Miss Gypsy Rose Lee,” suddenly finds her femininity. Without ever removing her clothes , she becomes the Queen of Striptease, an international sensation. Louise enters a glamorous new life filled with excitement and romance, while Rose now finds herself in the shadows.
All the ups and downs of this classic mother/daughter relationship are captured in the music of Jule Styne (Funny Girl, Bells are Ringing,Peter Pan), the lyrics of Stephen Sondheim (West Side Story, Sweeney Todd, Into the Woods) and the script by Arthur Laurents West Side Story, The Way We Were, The Turning Point). The choreography is by the legendary Jerome Robbins (Fiddler on the Roof, West Side Story, The King and I).