Gypsy – Pitlochry Festival Theatre

Reviewer: Dominic Corr

Book: Arthur Laurents

Music: Jule Styne

Lyrics: Stephen Sondheim

Director: Ben Occhipinti

And you thought your mother was a nightmare.

A prestige on all sides of the craft, Gypsy boasts the backbone of book and story by the esteemed Arthur Laurents and Jule Styne (also scoring the show), who take the context of the scintillating memoirs of world-famous burlesque performer Gypsy Rose Lee and hone the focus from her early years, framed through the determination and grit of her helicoptering, showbiz mother Rose. But more, oh so much more than this, Gypsy boasts the lyrics of the masterful Stephen Sondheim, infusing a musicality and vaudeville drapery, unlike many others.

But that vaudeville charm won’t last forever. And Mama Rose seems blind to the fact, dragging her two young girls through the backend of no-where theatres, sustained with self-confidence and patchy repairs. And when success does come a’ knockin’, it isn’t at the hand of vaudeville but its softer, more seductive sister: Burlesque. Bewildered by the ‘death’ of vaudeville, the abandonment of her first daughter and the tactics her daughter Louise will have to succumb to find fame and fortune, Mama Rose is lost, but that brash, wrecking-ball of lip and self-deprecation remains.

The lighting cycles between the principal palette of alluring crimsons, purples, and gaudy pinks often cascade down the white sheet which separates the constructed set and the actual Pitlochry stage. It’s simple but steps up the mark for Shona White’s eleven o’clock number, and the shattered masquerade of Rose’s psyche – Rose’s Turn booms with Hollywood spotlights erupting from the back, perfectly carrying the score and band to rouse out one final showstopper.

The unequivocal beauty of Shona White’s leading performance is that despite other characters viewing Rose as such, she is never the joke. Even in the wide humorous expression or fits of comedic rage and helicopter mothering – White holds Rose with a poignancy where no one can bring her down to the depths her character has already been dragged. She snickers, laughs, and even rejects the ideas of happily ever after, her pessimism blazing through the often-hopeful signature number Everything’s Coming Up Roses. White is performing in a five-star sensation, but unfortunately, not everything is achieving that quality.

Inhibitions need to be left at the door, surrendered to the intoxication and pizazz of the musical. Some relish this, especially the onstage musicians who often double as performers – Rachael McAllister and Trudy Ward, a delightful presence in the second act as burlesque performers who pry open the door for the audience as to where the narrative is heading. In other elements, Gypsy lacks the tightness and sharp edges to get over its dampened humour and vintage. In moments, particularly with the pacing, it feels drawn-out or unconvincing.

But Robbie Scott’s solo number cannot be overlooked, a tightly choreographed and mesmerising All I Need Is the Girl pushes for something more – as a yearning, gazing Blythe Jandoo lingers on in wanderlust, her own story on the cusp of igniting. And it does in act two, spending much of the first act in the deliberate shadow of Patricia Panther’s Dainty June, Rose’s pride and joy and basket of all hopes. Jandoo’s Louise, who grows into the world-renowned Gypsy Rose, is carried with a more sombre note than others who have taken to the role and stokes the flickers of a passionate fire. But though there’s a flame –it never quite feels like Rose is in danger of burning if she gets too close, this production opts for a more sincere approach.

Beneath the gags, the ballads and the tributes to Vaudeville’s heritage, there’s a genuine solemnity and pain to Gypsy. Featuring a stunning central performance from White, who captures not only the musicality of it all but the importance of Sondheim’s lyrics and the dimensions of the criticisms and addictive allure of fame. It takes an initial period to warm to the production, as the dynamics of family and economic strife don’t land as taut as they ought, but when things do come up roses for Mama Rose and the life and music thrive, there isn’t a person in the auditorium not there on stage with her in spirit, cheering to the air and ready to join in a celebration chow-mien and egg roll.

Runs until 30 September 2023 | Image: Fraser Band

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The Scotland team is under the editorship of Lauren Humphreys. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. We aim to review all professional types of theatre, whether that be Commercial, Repertory or Fringe as well as Comedy, Music, Gigs etc.

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