Saturday, 11 April 2015

Ya either got it, or ya ain't. And, boys, I got it!


Imelda Staunton has become the “go to” person to tackle larger-than-life characters on stage. If you thought her award-winning turn as Sweeney Todd’s Mrs Lovett was a knock-out then wait until you see her in her Stephen Sondheim follow-up, Gypsy. - Anne Cox, Stage Review
It was indeed a stunning performance, and altogether a stunning show - as our gang (me, Madam Arcati, Sal, Hils, Crog, Russ, Joe and Jim) found to our great joy when we turned up en masse at that glittering Art Deco masterpiece the Savoy Theatre last night.

Gypsy is one of Stephen Sondheim's most celebrated classics, with music by Jule Styne and book by Athur Laurents, and is indeed our #1 house favourite here at Dolores Delargo Towers. Unsurprising, really - it has been described by many an aficionado as "the greatest ever American musical" - Sondheim actually wrote it for our Great Earth Mother Ethel Merman, and it is one of the most archly camp of Mr S's works. Its last appearance here in London was 42 years ago, coincidentally also providing the star vehicle for the last West End appearance of that other musical icon of ours Dame Angela Lansbury, prior to her reappearance last year in Blithe Spirit.

The buzz about the show's long-overdue revival has been going on for years, but finally the Great Man's seal of approval is all over this production from Chichester Festival Theatre (a powerhouse of British theatrical successes, alongside our beloved Menier Chocolate Factory), directed by Jonathan Kent and choreographed by Stephen Mear. Indeed, the saintly Sondheim himself went backstage during the recent similarly triumphal revival of his Sweeney Todd and decreed that Imelda Staunton should play Rose. “From that moment,” she said, his suggestion “has been hanging over me like a commandment”.

Reluctantly "commanded" or not, Miss Staunton takes the role of "Madame Rose" and makes it her own. It takes all the skills of an Oscar-nominated actress such as she to really capture all the complexities of this "Gorgon", the "showbiz mother-from-hell", a complex blend of fragile damaged child (abandoned by her own mother), frustratedly ambitious showgirl and psychotic control-freak (with an apparent inability to form emotional bonds, even with her own children).



The part of "Rose" is notoriously challenging for any performer, not least one whose full-time career is not entirely musical - but we were totally and utterly blown away by just how brilliant Miss Staunton's singing abilities are. From sweet (Small World, You'll Never Get Away From Me) to brassy (Some People) to simply hilarious (Mr Goldstone), she was convincing and confident at every turn.

Wringing every sinister emotion out of the scene where Rose's vicarious ambitions turn from the recently-departed June to (the openly terrified) Louise, her Everything's Coming Up Roses was not so much an uplifting number celebrating triumph over adversity as a demonic threat against a child completely under Mother's thrall. The big, big number of the show - Rose's Turn - was similarly transformed from what in other hands might come close to a bitchily defiant "striptease-pastiche" into a frankly terrifying manifestation of a woman who is cracking up in the face of complete defeat.

Sheer perfection.

Of course, Gypsy is more than merely the "Momma Rose Story" - so, what of the rest of the show? Well, the casting director needs some congratulation here, too. The whole ensemble is top-notch, from the remarkably-talented children - especially "Baby June" (who (I think) was played in our showing by Isla Huggins-Blair; there are two child actors credited per role, for obvious reasons) and the "Newsboys" - to the surprisingly good (for a non-singer) Peter Davison as "Herbie" and the cute Dan Burton as "Tulsa".



Special mention must go to Louise Gold ("Mazeppa"), Anita Louise Combe ("Tessie Tura") and Julie Legrand ("Electra"), the three rough-as-rats faded strippers whose show-stopper You Gotta Get A Gimmick convinces "Louise" to emerge from her shell, who were utterly fantabulosa in the campest number of the whole show. It was hilarious - and we had a bit of a "Mexican Wave tit-shake" going on throughout!



Lara Pulver is sublime as the neglected, second-rate, lonely "Louise", whose transformation from "ugly duckling" to the most successful burlesque artiste in history Miss Gypsy Rose Lee is the raison d'etre of the story - based as it is upon the real-life lady's memoirs. She really encapsulated "Louise/Gypsy"'s palpable relief at escaping Momma's shadow (as expressed so well in her duet with the "grown-up June" Gemma Sutton on If Momma Was Married), and her self-discovery through stripping... Let Me Entertain You? She certainly did!

We all left utterly drained and exhausted with the joy and emotion of it all - always a sign of a good show. I can go one better than "good", however. I have not enjoyed a musical as much as this one in absolute ages - it is MAGNIFICENT.

The trailer (footage from its Chichester run) doesn't begin to do it justice:



Gypsy is at the Savoy Theatre "for a strictly limited season".

12 comments:

  1. thanks for post! i've always loved imelda, but NEVER imagined her like this.
    guess something's wrong with my imagination, huh?

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    1. "Something wrong with stripping?!"

      Miss Staunton is fabulous - she was great as "Mrs Lovett", but as "Rose" she excels... Jx

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  2. Boy has that girl "got it". In fact so has the whole production.
    It was fabulous..

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    1. It certainly was a night to remember! Jx

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  3. SO deeply envious! Of the big ladies, I've only seen Tyne Daly assay Rose - she was terrific (and terrifying), but she's very much an actress who sings rather than a total musician a la Merman. I would have put Staunton in the same category, but the clips I've seen from this and Sweeney prove me wrong...

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    1. Miss Staunton - who I always thought was admirable in every role in which I've seen her - apparently felt the need to get vocal coaching for the role, despite the fact that she played a blinder in Sweeney (and during her career starred in Mack & Mabel, Side by Side and Guys and Dolls). It paid off, brilliantly. Jx

      PS We loved Miss Daly in Master Class...

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  4. A truly brilliant evening. Imelda was mesmerising and brilliant. The whole production took my breath away, it's not often you see perfection, this was most definitely it!!!

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    1. It was absolutely as good as it gets, my dear, and we ought to know - being such avid theatregoers! Jx

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  5. Absolutely stunning. I never knew Imelda Staunton’s had such a great voice. And such energy to virtually carry the whole show. Brilliant. I’m so glad we went.

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    1. She had bags of energy - but by the end of it, we were the ones who felt so drained... :-)

      Jx

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  6. Gypsy is my favourite musical and back in December last year I booked for Grumpy and I to go (next Saturday) but over Easter I was bored and fancied a cheap show so got seats in the gods for this last minute and it is amazing, Imelda is astonishingly good and I can't wait to go and see it again with the better seats x

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    1. We were in the Upper Circle too - a tad frustrating at the (two) points in the show when the players traverse the 'apron stage', but everything else was perfectly in view...

      It was - in your words - "astonishingly good". Jx

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