Friday, 01 May 2015


In a show not seen in the West End for 40 years, Imelda Staunton makes it well worth the wait

Written by Richard Barber
Richard-Barber-colour-176Inexplicably, it’s a show that hasn’t been seen in the West End for more than 40 years when Angela Lansbury as Momma Rose was the talk of the town. Now Gypsy is back, courtesy of Jonathan Kent’s Chichester production and Imelda Staunton not only matches the magic of Dame Angela but turns in a career-defi ning performance.

Rose is the archetypal pushy showbiz mother, determined to create stars of her daughters, Louise, and especially Baby June, a precocious child forced to grin and trill and high kick her way through routines, often accompanied by a stage cow, which looked cheesy, even in 1930s vaudeville. But try as she might – and boy, does she try – Rose can’t seem to create her very own Shirley Temple.

The girls grow older, the set pieces grow ever more whiskery as the increasingly desperate troupe trails round an America in the grip of the Great Depression, with only Momma’s iron will and unsinkable buoyancy keeping the enterprise afl oat.

The arrival of former agent Herbie perks things up a bit, both professionally and personally. He gets bookings for Baby June and the rest and embarks on a romance with Rose, brave man that he is given the three failed marriages she’s already notched up. Peter Davison has joined the cast as Herbie – it was Kevin Whately in Chichester – and he invests it with a welcome warmth.

With a book by Arthur Laurents, music by Jule Styne and the pin-sharp lyrics of Stephen Sondheim, this is one of the top fi ve stage musicals of all time. Let Me Entertain You, Everything’s Coming Up Roses (it closes the fi rst half), Together Wherever We Go – all are given perfect renditions, witty and rousing and tender by turn, accompanied by a spot-on pit orchestra under Nicholas Skilbeck’s baton.

As everyone knows, Rose fi nally gets her wish but not in a way she would have wanted. Wallfl ower Louise (a terrifi c performance by Lara Pulver) blossoms into Gypsy Rose Lee, the most successful burlesque performer in the land.

It all but breaks Momma’s heart, an arc of grief beautifully delineated by Imelda Staunton and captured to perfection in the heartwrenching fi nal number, Rose’s Turn. Every look, every gesture is of a piece as we come to understand this complicated, driven woman.

Next year’s Olivier Award for Best Actress in a Musical? Truly, no one else need apply.

Until 28 November at the Savoy Theatre, London WC2: 0844-871 7687,

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