For most people, the musical “Gypsy” — like the current Broadway by the Bay production in Redwood City — is an opportunity for a pleasant evening’s entertainment. For longtime Bay Area resident Erik Preminger, it is a chance to flip through something akin to a living family album.
The musical is based on the memoirs of burlesque star Gypsy Rose Lee. It traces Lee’s early life on the vaudeville circuit, propelled by her fiercely ambitious mother Rose, and ends as Lee’s ecdysiast star is on the rise.
In the real life that followed the end of the musical’s plot, Lee married three times. She also dated producer Mike Todd and director Otto Preminger.
The relationship with Preminger produced a child in 1944, but it would not be until much later that Erik Preminger knew he had a famous father as well as a famous mother.
“Two amazing blessings in my life” is how Preminger describes his famous parents.
“My life as a child with my mother, and even as an adolescent when we had great troubles, was so extraordinarily rich. The older I get, the more I appreciate it.”
Preminger grew up much like his mother had before him. They lived out of suitcases, on the road for her career. When Gypsy’s third marriage ended in 1955, young Erik became the main man in her life.
He learned his father’s identity accidentally in the 1960s. “For the seven years I really had a relationship with Otto, I spent it working with him in the movie business and the richness of experience I had with my mother applies here as well.”
The figure who looms largest in “Gypsy” is his grandmother Rose, and Preminger relates that he only met her on two occasions before she died in 1954. His relationship with his aunt, actress June Havoc, who died last year, was strained and they had little contact.
Gypsy Rose Lee died in 1970. Preminger readily acknowledges, “If it were not for the musical, few people would know who she is today.” He sat with his mother at the opening night and has seen most major productions since, including all the Broadway revivals.
Each new production is a chance to tell the family story and he relishes the opportunity: “One of my jobs was to manage my mother’s scrapbooks, so from an early age I’ve always been steeped in the family lore.”
IF YOU GO
Presented by Broadway by the Bay
Where: Fox Theatre, 2215 Broadway, Redwood City
When: 8 p.m. today, Fridays and Oct. 8; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sundays; closes Oct. 9
Tickets: $22 to $48
Contact: (650) 579-5565, www.broadwaybythebay.org