Here she is boys! A long overdue revival of Gypsy, tackled brilliantly by Paul Kerryson at the Curve Theatre in Leicester. I've been wanting to see this musical for a very long time, and this was a highly awaited and anticipated opportunity that I could not ignore.
So first let's talk about the Curve Theatre. It's a theatre I had previously never been to, and I must say that I was really missing out on a fantastic performance space. The theatre is modern and architecturally an inspired setting for theatre. Perhaps not somewhere one would conventionally expect a production of Gypsy to be staged, the theatre served the show well, and it is definitely a theatre that I highly recommend to anyone in the East Midlands area if you are looking for a cultural night out.
The story is based on the 1957 published memoirs of the famous 1930s/40s burlesque dancer Gypsy Rose Lee (Louise), focusing on the stage act put together by her over bearing mother Rose, and staring Louise's younger sister June. After June elopes and the act starts to fail, Rose tries to continue the act with Louise as the star, however her singing and acting are not good enough, so Louise turns to striptease, discovering she has a talent for it, and becomes a highly celebrated burlesque dancer. The musical, whose book is written bu Arthur Laurents, music by Jule Styne and lyrics by a young Stephen Sondheim, charts the life of Louise as she is pushed from theatre to theatre on the Vaudeville circuit by her 'ultimate show business mother' Rose, who lives her own failed dreams of being a Vaudeville actress through her young daughters. The original Broadway production directed by Jerome Robbins opened in 1959 at the Broadway Theatre was nominated for eight Tony Awards, but failed to win any, making it highly ironic that the musical is now regarded by many critics as being one of America's greatest, with one even going as far as to say it is the American musical theatre's answer to King Lear.
The set, designed by Sara Perks was adequate, with a catwalk style extension over the orchestra pit lined with light bulbs adding depth and dimension to the stage. Of course, in a show where much of the action takes place in theatres a red curtain is compulsory, but what really intrigued me was the use of monochrome ad boards as the main vehicles for the set. It didn't exactly scream of the true setting of the story; a dying Vaudeville. Whilst these ad boards did serve well in breaking up scenes, perhaps a more typical set could have captured the audience and brought them into the lives of the characters a little more.
Musical Director Michael Haslam handles Styne's score brilliantly. The exciting, heavily brass based overture immediately draws you into the production and excites a sense of nostalgia harking back to the 'Golden Age' of Hollywood and Broadway. The balance and precision in such complex songs as 'Some People', 'Everything's Coming Up Roses', and of course 'Rose's Turn' are tackled effortlessly and it was thrilling even to hear the transitional music between scenes mirroring the sounds of a steam engine, truly reflecting the characters being dragged from one stage to another across the country.
Now the character of Rose is one of the most complex and challenging in musical theatre, and I truly believe that the right to play such a role needs to be earned by a seasoned and truly remarkable actress who can then justify such a casting with a performance of epic proportions. Okay, so I may be going I little over the top, but I'm not exaggerating when I say that Caroline O'Connor suits the domineering Rose incredibly well, and deserves all praise due to her. She truly is sublime as the pushy stage mother, carting her children across America in search of fame and success. Not only this, but O'Connor is vocally superb in all of her challenging musical numbers, with show stopping performance of 'Rose's Turn'. I found the breath taken from me as she completely embodied Rose and excellently portrayed her breakdown onstage. An absolute powerhouse of a performance, from a truly glorious actress.
There was also a fantastic onstage relationship between O'Connor and David Fleeshman, who plays Herbie, Rose's love interest and the children's agent. Whilst Fleeshman's American accent was noticeably weak, his acting most certainly made up for it. Heartwarming, endearing and lovable, your heart breaks along with his when Herbie comes to the realisation that Rose will never truly be able to love him more than show business.
Victoria Hamilton-Barritt is cast in the role of Louise, and plays the transition from the shy, innocent, vulnerable Louise we see in Act One's 'Little Lamb' to the headstrong, self-assured, successful and independent Gypsy Rose Lee in Act Two's 'Let Me Entertain You' beautifully. Hamilton-Barritt is exceptionally talented and at times steals the show when O'Connor is not onstage.
Credit must also be given to the highly talented supporting cast, who interchange roles seamlessly. Daisy Maywood is incredibly talented in the role of Dainty June, and whilst her stage time is rather limited, she performs her songs and choreography very well. Particular mention though, should be given to the trio of Geraldine Fitzgerald, Jane Fowler and Lucinda Shaw, whose hilarious performances in the comedy number 'You Gotta Get A Gimmick' is easily one of the highlights of the show. However, I can't finish without giving a special mention to the extremely talented children in the show, playing Baby June, young Louise and the rest of the children in Rose's troupe. They deal well with opening the show, handling some tricky choreography from David Needham with great flair and gusto.
Overall, I'm giving this revival of Gypsy four stars out of five. The set design may be a little lacking, but the casting is perfect and this is an opportunity to see a truly talented group of performers in one of musical theatre's finest shows, at a wonderful theatre. Perhaps the second act is stronger than the first, but this is where the transition of Louise to Gypsy occurs and the catharsis is played out. The production is running at the Curve Theatre in Leicester until the 15th April, so there's not much time left, but if you can, I really urge you to book tickets and see this show.
Photography by Catherine Ashmore and Pamela Raith
Photography by Catherine Ashmore and Pamela Raith