Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Theatre Review: Gypsy

I've wanted to see a production of Gypsy ever since, about 15 years ago, I first heard some of the songs on an episode of Ball Over Broadway on BBC Radio 2.

(Anyone else remember that show? No? Just me?)

Subsequently, I must have heard bits of the score about a billion times courtesy of myriad episodes of Elaine Paige on Sunday (‘IT’S ME, EEEE PEEE’) and, mostly, Anton and Erin tours which borrow from it so heavily that I think Jule Styne and Stephen Sondheim should get some kind of credit in A&E’s tour programme. And to be honest, even if you don’t think you do, everyone almost certainly knows at least one song or tune from Gypsy. It’s kind of everywhere, musically speaking.

There’s always a risk when you've been wanting to see a show for ages that, having built it up so much in your mind, any production no matter how good is an automatic let down. I was fortunate, then, that the production I got to see was the current West End one which is one of the best - if not the actual best - productions of any musical I've ever seen.

Image source.

I mean this show has superlative laden five star reviews coming out of its ears at this point, all of which are entirely justified. I would actually go so far as to say it’s perfect; I can’t think of a single thing, even a tiny one, that I didn't like about it.

The major thing to like about Gypsy - any production of it - is the incredible music. I can’t think of another show that has so many instantly recognisable songs in it. It’s absolutely incredible to me that amazing songs like Everything’s Coming Up Roses, Some People, Together Wherever We Go, You Gotta Get a Gimmick and All I Need is the Girl are in one show. Hell, even the Overture is famous (and so, so beautiful) which is not something that many shows can boast. The music is, I would argue, the best ever written for a show and the superb orchestrations (and orchestra) in this production really make the most of it.

Of course the other major thing to like about Gypsy is that, if a production is in any way worth its salt, then you have a Major Star playing the lead character, Rose. In this case it’s National Treasure Imelda Staunton (I believe that’s her full name) who is un-fucking-believable. I'm aware this is going to sound gushy and over the top, but there really aren't the words to do justice to her performance.  Her voice is just incredible - so powerful and emotive - which is something I always forget for some reason, despite having seen her in a few musicals now. It goes without saying that she’s an incredible actress (her ‘Rose accent’ alone deserves some awards it feels so natural) too and her performance in this show must be one of her best to date.

Rose is a difficult character to love for most of the show and only really gets her redemption in the big finish of the second act, leaving a lot riding on what is a huge and difficult song. Staunton takes that huge and difficult song and wipes the floor with it. It’s a genuinely extraordinary few minutes of theatre which is thrilling to watch. I'm not sure I've seen anything like it in a musical before - it’s worth the price of a ticket alone.

The rest of the cast is great, if somewhat overshadowed. Peter Davison in particular is extremely touching as Rose’s would-be husband Herbie and Lara Pulver is a great, wounded-but-feisty Louise. A fantastic ensemble - and a really strong kids’ ensemble too - has lots to do and does it well. The dance routines are particularly slick, especially Dan Burton’s (Tulsa) sweeping ballroom All I Need is the Girl routine which would definitely get a ten from Len were he to participate in Strictly Come Dancing for some reason.

The production is astutely directed by Jonathan Kent and the clever design - the use of projection is so effective as is the ‘circusy’ lighting - makes the show look as well as sound great.

I think Gypsy is the best thing I've seen this year (nicking the top spot from Clarence Darrow) and urge you to go and see it too. You could not possibly regret it.

Gypsy plays at the (stunning) Savoy Theatre until 28th November.

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