Sunday, 19 April 2015

'Gypsy' at the Savoy Theatre

Last years' season at Chichester included three great musicals - 'Amadeus' (with Rupert Everett), 'Guys and Dolls' (with Sophie Thompson) and 'Gypsy' (with Imelda Staunton). The only production to transfer to London is 'Gypsy' which has just opened for a limited season at the Savoy Theatre on the Strand. Imelda still leads the cast (and has pride of place on the poster) but Herbie is now played by Peter Davison rather than Kevin Whateley. I have to report that Dr Who can do many things but either he had a terribly sore throat or he can't sing (I suspect the latter, but Herbie doesn't need to sing so that's ok).

It's the same production as in Chichester (and I blogged here) but on a smaller scale since the Savoy doesn't have the vast expanse of stage as Chichester. No less energy in the performances, of course, despite having done the matinee that afternoon. You'd never have guessed.

As you probably know, it's the tale of a stage-mother who is tirelessly driven to make her daughter June a star, the star she wanted to be herself but the moment passed her by. We see the same old, tired act again and again as the children grow up and move from town to town and vaudeville theatre to theatre. And then they have their big break with a shot at Broadway but the theatre only wants June, not the rest of the act or the mother and they turn it down. Then June runs off with one of the dancers after getting secretly married and setting up their own act. So Mama Rose turns her attention to her older daughter, Louise, to make her the star instead of June.

They end up in a burlesque theatre with strippers and that's where Gypsy Rose Lee is born when Rose insists Louise (played by Lara Pulver) does the strip when the booked stripper is arrested since it means she will bow out of the business as a star. A hesitant Louise does the strip by simply removing a glove and then goes on to become the star her mother always wanted, as the most highly pay stripper in the business. Without Rose. And that leads to Rose's eventual breakdown on stage with her name in lights and the crowd on its feet applauding the latest and greatest star in Mama Rose. But it's all fantasy and she walks off to a party with her newly reconciled daughter, walking into the lights off-stage. Phew! What a roller coaster that fully deserved the standing ovation at the end.

It's a great production of a great show and is a perfect showcase for Imelda Staunton, particularly her big songs that close both halves - 'Everything's Coming Up Roses' and 'Rose's Turn'. Imelda captures the fire and passion of ambition and blasts it out at the audience in an astonishing performance that reveals so much of her character, of the pain of being in the background and trying to push forward to reach her dreams. She won't give up on her dreams despite losing the man she loves and her daughters along the way. A portrait in tenacity.

If you can, go and see this show and see Imelda's career-defining performance. It's only on for a couple of months so book tickets now. Anita Dobson and Brian May enjoyed it too - they were sitting along the row from us and I bet Brian was itching to get out his guitar and join in with a solo.

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