Theatre Review: Gypsy

Date Posted: 17/04/2015

Gypsy has opened at the Savoy Theatre. Sarah Holt went along to see if everything came up roses for the new production in a theatre review.

Ahead of its revival at the Savoy Theatre, the musical Gypsy had a high bar set for it. Created by Stephen Sondheim and Arthur Laurents, the show first opened on Broadway in 1959 and went on to win eight Tony awards. A few years later, the film adaptation won a Golden Globe award and subsequently it has become known as the ‘greatest American musical of all time’.

The production’s casting directors were clearly aware of the reputation that preceded them. Their casting of Imelda Staunton in the lead role of Momma Rose left little room for error – Staunton has a mantlepiece that’s already adorned with Olivier awards and BAFTAs, and there was very nearly an Oscar on there, too.

However, it’s been more than 40 years since the musical graced UK stages, and I entered the theatre ahead of my review, wondering how well the show would stand up in the eyes of 21st century audiences.

The production certainly opened with a bang. Gypsy tells the story of showbiz mother Rose, whose dream is to have her two daughters become famous vaudeville acts in the 1920s, so the show starts with a colourful and laugh-out-loud depiction of the vaudeville scene.

Special mention here has to be made of the young actress who played Rose’s youngest daughter Baby June. Her performance had so much energy I could have sworn she had pogo springs in her shoes, and it got the audience in the right happy-go-lucky mind frame required for the first act of the show.

I suspect that those familiar with Gypsy might have enjoyed the first act a fraction more than me. Songs like All I Need is The Girl and Everything’s Coming Up Roses triggered a giddying sense of nostalgia in a few of the people around me, to the point where they were humming along under their breaths.

However, that’s not to say I didn’t like the first act. It was enjoyable. It was punctuated with witty lines like ‘after three husbands it takes an awful lot of butter to get you back in the frying pan’, and it had the feel good factor.

For me, though, it was the second act when the show really came into its own. By this point in the production, Momma Rose had lost control of her family acting troupe, and her ambition to be a mother to the stars is starting to drive her to desperate measures.

One such measure leads her to accept a gig in a burlesque club, where her family cabaret act is at the bottom of the bill, beneath a series of stripper sets. The scene where the strippers introduce themselves to Rose and her eldest daughter, Louise, was one of my favourites in the show.

Louise Gold as Mazeppa, Julie Legrand as Electra and Anita Louise Combe put on a blindingly unselfconscious performance as washed up striptease acts with their lumps, bumps and broken egos; the type of which I’ve never seen in the theatre before.

Then there are the scenes where Rose’s eldest daughter, Louise, gets her own break as a burlesque performer and goes on to become one of the best in the business. These scenes are stunning, and I left the theatre wishing there had been more.

Act two is where Imelda Staunton really gets into top gear, too. This is where it becomes clear that Imelda is an actress who can sing rather than a singer who does a bit of acting. During the ‘Roses’ Turn’ scene, Imelda’s performance created a pin-drop quiet in the theatre and she sent tension through the audience like a sonic boom.

There was a standing ovation at the end of show. And although the loudest cheers were made for Imelda, hers is not the only top-notch performance in the production. I’ve already mentioned Baby June and the strippers, and Lara Pulver’s metamorphosis in the character of Louise is credit-worthy, too.

The song Let Me Entertain You is sang three times in Gypsy. After the third time, the cast don’t need to ask anymore. By this point there’s a 99 per cent chance you’ll leave the theatre justly entertained.

Gypsy is now playing at London’s Savoy Theatre. For more information visit www.gypsythemusical.uk.

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