Music and Lyrics: Jule Styne and Stephen Sondheim
Book: Arthur Laurents
Director: Jonathan Kent
Reviewer: Sharon MacDonald-Armitage
From the opening notes of the overture to the finale of ‘Rose’s Turn’, Jonathan Kent’s direction of Gypsy at Chichester Festival is an absolute joy.
Gypsy tells the story of Momma Rose, the archetypal pushy stage mother and her two daughters June and Louise. Rose’s ambition is to see her “Baby June” thrust onto the stage and become a star and she gives little thought to the quiet, reserved Louise who barely registers on Rose’s radar. Until that is June runs off with a member of the troupe and Rose then forces her attention onto Louise.
The combination of a stellar cast that includes Imelda Staunton as the overbearing, driven Momma Rose, Kevin Whately as the steadfast Herbie and Gemma Sutton and Lara Pulver as the forever young, sisters June and Louise surely has West End transfer stamped all over it. As well as the wonderful leads, the ensemble adds colour and pizzazz to a slick and fiery show. A special mention must be made to Dan Burton as Tulsa whose ‘All I Need is the Girl” routine with Pulver is smooth and full of lightness of touch.
Pulver is nothing less than brilliant! From the shy withdrawn and boyish Louise who is extremely easy to overlook in the Vaudeville scenes and who stays firmly in June’s shadow, like a butterfly she suddenly transforms into a confident, sassy, sexy darling of burlesque, working the crowd like a pro. Pulver had the audience captivated, she is extremely difficult to ignore once she takes centre stage herself. The physical transformation of Louise is cleverly done by her slipping behind the curtains and returning each time dressed slightly more risqué. Her tentative first delivery of ‘Let Me Entertain You’ mimics the child-like qualities of her sister’s act, but it is the sassy, confident, mature woman that brings the house down. Burlesque is about the tease and Pulver certainly manages this with ease.
The only slight irritation is Kevin Whateley’s accent; it constantly and clearly abandoned him at times. His character was believable and there is nothing wrong with his acting but the strong Geordie accent made many an appearance, particularly when he got angry or had to sing. Perhaps with time this will improve.
There is no doubt however that this is Staunton’s show, the nuances of touch, the knowing looks, the body language, her physicality on stage is immense. Her ability to manipulating Herbie in returning to being a theatrical agent and take care of her girls, her blanket refusal to accept her girls are growing up and her inability not to interfere with Louise once she has transformed into Gypsy Rose Lee is shocking but believable. There are moments when I would have expected a more punchy delivery of songs from such a classic character, but this is Staunton, never one to go with what is expected. The final ‘Rose’s Turn’ had the audience totally enthralled; Staunton is mesmerising and this is surely one of musical theatre’s most phenomenal performances of the year.
Photo: Johan Persson ¦ Runs at Chichester until 6th November 2014