Caroline O'Connor & Victoria Hamilton-Barritt in Gypsy
19 March 2012 WOS Rating: Average Reader Rating: Reader Reviews: View and add to our user reviews In many ways, the story of real-life burlesque star Gypsy Rose Lee is a bizarre one to turn into a musical. There’s no love interest to speak of, the biographical narrative is necessarily episodic and most of the journey isn’t actually about her at all. In the hands of composer Jule Styne and lyricist Stephen Sondheim however, many of these obstacles are overcome. Their 1959 Broadway hit, with a compelling book by Arthur Laurents, includes showstoppers such as "Together Wherever We Go" and "Everything’s Coming Up Roses", and was a career landmark for its original star Ethel Merman.
Stepping into her shoes in this Curve revival – and with more than a hint of that
grande dame about her – is Caroline O'Connor, a performer gifted equally with acting and singing talent, and with enough emotional punch to carry the biggest, most ambitious of roles as the pushy mother Rose. It’s a virtuoso performance that richly deserves the acclaim it wins from the audience, even if the character herself has few likeable or redeeming features.
There are lots of impressive supporting performances around her, adding depth and range to
Paul Kerryson’s sure-footed production. Daisy Maywood sparkles as her all-singing, all-dancing daughter June, and David Fleeshman provides much-needed warmth and humanity in the shape of the press-ganged agent Herbie. There’s a fine spot, too, from Jason Winter as would-be hoofer Tulsa, whose wonderful solo rendition of "All I Need is the Girl" almost steals the first act. Victoria Hamilton-Barrit, meanwhile, achieves an extraordinary transformation from second-best, wallflower daughter Louise to the supremely confident, world-conquering persona of Gypsy Rose Lee herself – always believable and shockingly manipulated by her calculating mother.
As ever, it’s a delight to hear a live band fuelling the score excitingly, and David Needham’s choreography, Sara Perks’s designs and Philip Gladwell’s lighting all do much to complement the atmospheric recreation of Depression-era America. And if the full package doesn’t quite grab you by the throat and shake your emotions to the core, then it isn’t for lack of effort on the part of this hugely entertaining cast and crew.
- Michael Davies
Score Comment Date Such a disappointment. The lead could sing and the kids and dogs performed admirably in the opening half hour, but there were few other positives to take away.
The characters had no depth or subtlety, some of the accents were embarrassingly bad, and I had to keep pinching myself that I hadn't stumbled into a local Am Dram production. The set design was evocative of some mythical Norman Rockwell era rather than the grubby backstages of Vaudeville and Burlesque.
There was so much to explore in the complex relationships between Momma Rose and her potential fiancé and her two daughters, but it largely remained uncharted territory. By the end, I had come no closer to understanding what was driving this particular Momma Rose, or indeed feeling any emotion towards her, be it pity, sympathy or animosity. As one who is easily tear-jerked, why was I left unmoved by Rose's Turn?
When two semi-naked male dancers popped up, the feeling that we had now alighted at G.A.Y. rather than the Burlesque was reinforced by the shocking transmogrification of Louise into a Cheryl Cole lookalike.
It's rare to get a decent sound mix at a musical outside of the West End (and not always there), but the music here was nicely loud -- could be louder in fact -- yet the vocals were still crystal clear, so there, I've managed to find another positive.
All in however, this was a great opportunity missed. - Martin Barber 04 Apr 12 When you book to see a Paul Kerryson production you can be sure of a good evening's entertainment. Kerryson is an acknowledged interpreter of Steven Sondheim's work so his Gypsy was always going to be worthwhile.
Written in 1959, Gypsy was Sondheim's second big musical, pairing his lyrics with Jule Styne's music and Arthur Laurents' evocative story of the life of Gypsy Rose Lee and the death of Variety. Madame Rose, the ultimate stage mother, flogged the dead horse of her troupe of cutsie child performers around the declining Variety circuit until all she had left was Louise, the not attractive one, the not talented one of her daughters. Louise couldn't do any of the normal things well a child star was supposed to do. She couldn't sing well. She couldn't dance well. In the final death throes of Variety Burlesque was all that was left. Rose wasn't about to let her remaining daughter reduce herself to being a common stripper and so devised a classy act where, to all intent and purposes, Louise hardly revealed a thing. She went down a storm amid the comedians and novelty acts that filled out the bill. To keep within the law the girls had to be clean but risque. A fine line to tread but one Louise, as Gypsy Rose Lee, perfected.
The Curve in Leicester has rapidly gained a reputation for providing top class productions, often with 'unknown' names so having West End star Caroline O'Connor topping the bill as Momma Rose means this is an outstanding musical. With Victoria Hamilton-Barritt playing Louise/Gypsy and a full cast of both child and adult performers, the soul destroying tedium of traipsing around the American Variety circuit is caught beautifully showing that, despite the children growing up, the act was always basically the same, but never good enough for top billing.
Caroline O'Connor, even on the matinee that we saw, chewed up the scenery as Momma Rose fought to keep her kids fed. Just. The end of the first half's optimistic Everything's Coming Up Roses would have wiped out any other actress on a Saturday night. O'Connor flung it to the back of the packed gallery and then came back for the second half anew. That first half saw Hamilton-Barritt's Louise continue her struggle to be noticed alongside precocious Dainty June. It wasn't until the second half, with June having eloped, that Louise was able to blossom into the classy Burlesque star that she became. Hamilton-Barritt handled the tricky task of Louise morphing into Gypsy Rose Lee with aplomb. But, of course, all the class in the world was never going to eclipse Caroline O'Connor's show stopping finale in Rose's Turn, Momma Rose's lament of missed opportunities and defiance to the future. There is no happy ending, Rose and Louise end up on an empty stage trying to renegotiate their relationship.
As with the best musicals Gypsy is big bold and brassy, but beneath the surface glitz it isn't afraid to show tape and nails that hold the scenery up. You will stagger out into the light wiped out. Go see it!
© Paul Towers 2012 - Paul Towers 21 Mar 12
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