The Chichester Festival Theatre's wildly acclaimed, Imelda Staunton-starring Sondheim revival hits the West End.
There are moments when ‘Gypsy’ feels like a lovely indulgence. Not seen in London for 40 years, Jonathan Kent’s revival of this 1959 musical is like a collector’s loving restoration job on a beautifully-made vintage car. With a full, jazzy orchestra doing total justice to Jule Styne’s brassy score, some beautifully Gene Kelly-ish choreography, a discretely sumptuous set, clockwork stage management, and a huge cast, it purrs like a dream. Despite piercing, sardonic lyrics by the great Stephen Sondheim, there is much about ‘Gypsy’ that is old fashioned, but that’s part of its charm, a sweet ride from a more elegant age.
And then there are the moments when Imelda Staunton is on stage. To say her turn as hilarious, tragic, monstrous impresario Momma Rose is the best performance of her career somewhat belies the fact that it is usually decreed that Staunton has given the best performance of her career (see recent triumphs ‘Good People’ and ‘Sweeney Todd’). Nonetheless, this really is something else.
Staunton certainly has the lungs and the comic chops to portray the seemingly indomitable Rose as she marches her daughters – her favourite June (Gemma Sutton) and the long-suffering Louise (Lara Pulver) – around the States in a ghastly, cloying act at the fag-end of vaudeville.
But what elevates Staunton’s performance is the darkness beneath the surface: the sense of irreparable damage to her soul, the Saint Vitus’s dance of desperation she does as she resolves Louise will be her new star after June leaves her; the terrible blankness in her eyes as the prospect of earning a few extra bucks makes her forget her long-suffering paramour Herbie (a cuddly Peter Davison). If the real life Rose Hovick had been born a century later, Louis Theroux would have made a heartbreaking documentary about her; here, abetted by Sondheim and writer Arthur Laurents, Staunton finds something even more poignant, a performance that has everything to say about the toxicity of aspiration and the awful damage mothers can do to their daughters.
Louise’s abrupt late blossoming into the the burlesque superstar Gypsy Rose Lee gives the fine Pulver time to shine, but makes for a slightly wonky second half, as the focus suddenly shifts to the daughter. And the ending is a bit of a soft-hearted cop out. But none of this detracts from Staunton’s unmissable performance: ‘Gypsy’ is a splash dated, but she makes it timeless.
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Astonishing by Imelda Staunton in this superbly staged show. I actually felt a little sorry for the other performers all of whom were of a very high standard as I sat with most of the audience transfixed by Stauntons performance. One of the best musicals I have ever seen, and as far as the star is concerned up there with Juliet Stevenson in Happy Days, Derek Jacobi as Cyrano de Bergerac, and David Tenant as Hamlet in my list of greatest I have seen!
This show is quite simply fan-tas-tic! Imelda Staunton is brilliant, the energy is contagious, and all-in-all the making of a jolly good night.
I hate musicals and only went to accompany my mum but I was absolutely blown away by this show. Imelda Staunton must surely win every award going.