THEATRE REVIEW: Gypsy, Savoy Theatre

booking until 28 November 2015

When I saw Clarence Darrow  at the Old Vic recently, I had never seen an entire audience get to their feet as one for an individual actor. The audience at this revival of Gypsy has beaten this record by being, if possible, even quicker to leap to a standing ovation. Throughout the curtain call there was the unmistakeable rustle of bags being moved out the way, audience members shuffling to the edge of their seat, ready to be upstanding the second that Imelda Staunton stepped onto the stage to take her bow.

Jonathan Kent’s revival of the Jule Styne and Stephen Sondheim classic is the first since it premièred in the West End in 1973, and it’s wonderful to see the production bringing a whole new audience in to enjoy the show. The Savoy Theatre’s sense of old-school glamour from a bygone era suits this story of fading vaudeville. With these surroundings, an orchestra on top form and strikingly fluid staging, it’s a nigh on perfect theatrical experience.

Imelda Staunton as Gypsy Rose Lee
Imelda Staunton as Momma Rose

But from start to finish, this show belongs to Staunton. As the ultimate pushy stage mother Momma Rose, she is domineering, funny, ferocious, loving, over-the-top, frustrating but somehow likeable – and utterly brilliant. With perfect diction, every word of her dialogue and song is perfectly pitched with exactly the right emotion and direction. Her rather unusual vocal tones suit the role wonderfully, and when you think she’s reached her peak she pushes things further.  ‘Some People’ and ‘Everything’s Coming Up Roses’ are superb, but her rendition of ‘Rose’s Turn’ at the climax of the show is goose-pimpling, shivers-down-the-spine sublime. And after all of that, Staunton still appears genuinely humbled and thankful for the uproarious reception she received from this, and no doubt every other, audience. It’s the best musical theatre performance I’ve ever seen.

Stauton’s light may shine brightest, but there’s no forgetting the rest of the cast. Lara Pulver’s trajectory from shy and awkward tomboy Louise, to regal and glamorous stripper Gypsy Rose Lee, is nuanced and charming. As her younger sister June, Gemma Sutton is a delight in the hilariously ridiculous vaudeville acts. The transition between the younger and adult actresses is delightfully carried out with the help of strobe lighting, just one moment out of many scene changes that sends murmurs through the audience. Stephen Mear’s choreography cleverly threads together comical vaudeville and gorgeously classic music theatre.

Peter Davison, Imelda Staunton, Lara Pulver and the young ensemble of Gypsy
Peter Davison, Imelda Staunton, Lara Pulver and the young ensemble of Gypsy

Elsewhere Dan Burton makes for an engaging Tulsa, with impressive fancy footwork and strong vocals that make ‘All I Need Is The Girl’ stand out amongst a host of hummable tunes: ‘If Momma Was Married’, ‘Together (Wherever We Go)’, ‘You’ll Never Get Away From Me’, and of course the brilliant ‘Let Me Entertain You’, the refrain of which echoes throughout the score as it builds up to Louise’s emergence into stardom. Peter Davison’s singing talents may not be on a par with everyone else’s, but he brings a great balance of warmth and frustration as the long-suffering Herbie. His growing relationship with Louise is touching, and his final exit is truly heart-rending as the trio is broken up by Rose’s continuing obsession with her children’s fame.

Gypsy has just been extended until November 2015, and I urge anyone to get their hands on a ticket. A divine piece of musical theatre, this production will surely remain in the memories of those who have seen it for many years to come – most of all for a powerhouse, magnificent, shattering performance from Imelda Staunton. Absolutely unmissable.

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