In my last post, you’ll recall that Kinky Boots was the matinee for my November double show day. For my evening, I headed across the street to see Gypsy. Some of you might recall from my previous blogs or if its ever come up in conversation between us that Sondheim is one of my favourite composers and lyricists of all musical theatre. I enjoy how his work challenges me and gets me thinking about life, and how his characters are so rich and complex, and his lyrics for Gypsy are witty, heart-warming and heart-breaking in equal measures. If I’m honest, Gypsy was a show that I really didn’t know much about and when this revival was announced, I initially shied away because I thought given the casting, there wasn’t a chance I would get my paws on a ticket. Sometimes though, it pays to take a punt, and whilst on my way to meet my dad after another matinee visit, I willingly had my arm twisted by a friend that we stop off at the Savoy Theatre Box Office to enquire about availability for the evening I already had a matinee lined up and sure enough, I was in luck!
Loosely based on the memoirs of Gypsy Rose Lee, we meet the formidable ‘Momma Rose’ who pours all her relentless energy and passion into making her daughters stars, something she failed at in her own right; Gypsy is a story of the relationships between mothers and daughters, the dying art of vaudeville and the trials of show business and broken dreams. This revival marks the first time Gypsy has been seen on the West End in over 40 years, and began life at Chichester Festival Theatre. Jonathan Kent directs, and reunites some of the other creative team behind his 2012 revival of another Sondheim stalwart, Sweeney Todd including: Musical Director Nicholas Skilbeck, Lighting Designer Mark Henderson, Sound Designer Paul Groothuis along with Imelda Staunton who gave an Olivier award winning turn as Mrs Lovett. Some might say that Gypsy feels dated, hence why it hasn’t been seen in so long. In my opinion though, there’s not a trace of feeling dated here and for me as someone who was completely new to the show, I was struck at how it felt like a breath of fresh air and still relevant today despite its being set in a particular time and place and is reminiscent of that; I particularly enjoyed the Costumes by Anthony Ward and Choreography by the wonderful Stephen Mear, which seemed to give the original choreography by Jerome Robins a new lease of life. I was surprised to see how much of Jules Styne’s score I recognised, and was wonderful to hear these played out in context.
I had the privilege of seeing Imelda Staunton twice during her award winning run as Mrs Lovett, and remember my feeling completely awed by her, and this feeling was multiplied a thousand fold watching her performance as Momma Rose. As a character, I find Rose really interesting as she divides opinion. I’ve read some critics describe her as ‘monstrous’, but I fall into the opposite realm of opinion who say things aren’t as black and white as that, in that yes she does and says some pretty monstrous things, but I also saw her humour, vulnerability and love for her children, and admired her passion and tenacious spirit all thanks to Imelda’s captivating performance. She radiates charisma and it still amazes me how the powerful vocal she has comes out of her slight frame! Everything’s Coming Up Roses and Rose’s Turn were incredible experiences to be part of; the audiences were riveted into an awed silence and at the end of both exploded into thunderous applause: it was pure theatrical magic. During the climax of the show, Rose says: “What I got in me, what I been holding down inside of me, if I ever let it go, there wouldn’t have been signs big enough”, a testament, I think, to Imelda’s performance and the colours and depth she brings to her portrayal.
I think one of the biggest compliments to Imelda’s stunning performance is the fact that she has an array of equally strong performers around her. Though I have no doubt that she could captivate and lift an audience on her own, it’s a joy to see a whole cast bring out the best in each other.
Following in the footsteps of Lara Pulver and moving from playing June, Gemma Sutton brings a beautiful, nuanced fragility to the role of Louise that made her gradual transformation into the sophisticated, brassy Gypsy Rose Lee all the more satisfying. The confrontation between mother and daughter at the show’s climax sees an interesting role reversal where Rose, having admitted and stood face to face with her demons, is comforted by Louise and they walk off together. I loved this because it felt very real for them to only take this tentative step towards reconciling rather than having an overtly happy conclusion. Lauren Hall plays June, Louise’s talented sister. June is quite the contrast to Louise, extroverted and longing for fame but feeling suffocated by her mother’s wishes and expectations. Lauren brought great warmth and likeability to June, and as with Gemma it was a pleasure to watch her grow and develop.
Peter Davison was the biggest surprise for me as Herbie, and I was charmed by him; as with Imelda’s Rose, there are lots of colours and elements to his personality and he brought all these out with ease, his last scene with Rose is a wonderful moment of heart and moved me profoundly.
Dan Burton was a revelation as Tulsa, my eye was drawn to his infectious smile and once again I was completely, utterly captivated by his dancing. I can’t remember the last time I wished so vehemently I was physically able to dance. All I Need is the Girl was another major highlight of the entire evening!
As I write this, Gypsy has entered its final week at the Savoy, I can’t tell you how glad I was that I’d been able to see it.