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.