In March this year one of the most revived and talked about shows in Musical Theatre history returned to the West End after over 40 years. Following it’s successful run at the Chichester Festival Theatre and an incredible opening night – GYPSY has gone on to be a great success. This review is far too late – but I want to share my thoughts on the original cast before the curtain comes down for the final time on Saturday night (28th November 2015).
This ‘musical fable’ has boasted an array of talented leading ladies playing the troubled ‘Rose’ – from Ethel Merman to Bette Midler, Patti Lupone, Bernadette Peters and Angela Lansbury, yet in the shows latest version the role is played by Imelda Staunton. Probably best known for playing the wicked ‘Delores Umbridge’ in the Harry Potter films (and being an Oscar nominee for ‘Vera Drake’) Staunton is also highly experienced in Musical Theatre, having played roles in ‘Guys and Dolls’,’Into the Woods’,’The Wizard of Oz’ and the stunning 2012 revival of ‘Sweeney Todd’.
My first time seeing Imelda on stage was in ‘Sweeney Todd’ (for which she won an Olivier for her role as Mrs. Lovett). This was really a special production for me – as a self confessed Harry Potter fan, I can still remember how excited I was to see Imelda Staunton in a musical (?!) and I was truly blow away by her performance and the direction of this show. Both Sweeney Todd and Gypsy are helmed by master director – Jonathan Kent, who not only constructs slick and exciting revivals, he brings out a real essence in the performers. The cast of Gypsy is superb yet undeniably as many critiques have stated since the show’s opening night, Imelda is at the top of her game.
Imelda Staunton & Lara Pulver.
I was lucky enough to see the first preview of Gypsy back in March this year, Staunton’s transformation from screechy Mrs. Lovett to the larger than life Rose, with three VERY challenging solos (vocally and mentally) was quite staggering. The thing I love about performers is when they have no barriers, and constantly strive to make that extra push or try something new. You can’t take your eyes off of Staunton, from her first entrance to her final gesture – everything is thought through, precise and daring. With a story revolving around a pushy mother, set against the backdrop of the Vaudeville Circuit with a big, brassy Broadway score – Gyspy is really the epitome in my opinion of THE ‘Broadway’ show. From the long, boisterous Overture to delving into the world of show business and the famous numbers ‘Some People’,’If Momma was Married’ and ‘Together, Wherever We Go’ (covered by such artists as Judy Garland, Liza Minelli and Barbra Streisand) has kept audience returning time and time again to see Gypsy – a great story and huge legacy.
Staunton is joined by Sherlock star Lara Pulver as ‘Louise’ and Gemma Sutton (Hairspray, Legally Blonde) as ‘Baby June’. Both shine in their roles, bringing another exciting element to the strong plot. Louise and June are so different and the struggle they both face because of their mother and how much they change throughout the story is portrayed brilliantly. Peter Davidson, of course known predominantly for playing ‘Doctor Who’ is a great attribute to the show, perhaps a little reserved at times but overall gives a good performance as ‘Herbie’. Dan Burton as ‘Tulsa’ definitely makes the most of his solo near the finale of the first act and Anita Louise Combe, Louise Gold and Julie Legrand as the three strippers have the audience in hysterics.
Jule Styne’s electric score, the lyrics of Stephen Sondheim and the book by Arthur Laurents fit seamlessly together. The piece remains fresh and exciting to the modern day audience – it’s hard to believe the show premièred in 1959! However, I do believe that Imelda Staunton is a huge contributor to the shows recent success (naturally) – yet she is more than just the ‘star’ cast in the leading role. Staunton appears to live and breath her role as Rose. confessing in a recent interview that she may go all day without speaking – just to get through the role every night! If I had to name the best performance in a musical I have ever seen I would have to say Imelda…’Rose’s Turn’ blew my mind.