Steven Sondeim’s Gypsy, based on the memoirs of the famous striptease artist Gypsy Rose Lee, is considered to be no less than one of the greatest musicals of all time. Up there with such works as West Side Story and Chicago, Gypsy offers the kind of show stopping razzmatazz and glamour associated with the big time Broadway musical. The question going into Paul Kerryson’s production at Curve was would this particular version manage to live up to the lofty standards of the original and do this vaunted piece of musical theatre justice? After witnessing over two and a half hours of flawless dance routines, breathtaking visuals and show stopping musical numbers the answer was a resounding yes.
Gypsy charts Rose’s attempts to make her two daughters June, (Daisy Maywood,) and Louise, (Victoria Hamilton-Barritt,) major stars in the world of vaudeville theatre. Even by the time of the play’s 1920s setting vaudeville was an entertainment genre in steep decline under increasing pressure from the newly emerging motion picture industry with the advent of the talkies. Nevertheless, Rose (Caroline O’Conner) being the archetypal pushy showbiz parent, is determined to do whatever it takes to make sure her two girls make it to the top. This ambition seems unlikely however due to the nature of their one-dimensional kiddie act; the hackneyed performance sees the teenage June in pigtails and frilly dress, à la Shirley Temple, performing a series of high kicks and squeals to the song Let Me Entertain You.
When Rose bumps into a former showbiz agent Herbie, (David Fleeshman,) she convinces him to manage their act, with this decision the troupe’s luck momentarily changes for the better. Although Herbie is romantically interested in Rose she ignores his marriage proposals choosing instead to focus on the “success of her girls”.
Caroline O’Conner’s performance is absolutely extraordinary. Channelling her inner Liza Minnelli she faultlessly reels off Rose’s witty one liners before jumping head first into another huge musical number at the drop of a hat, tearing down the house with the comical Mr Goldstone, I Love you and the astonishing Rose’s Turn at the show’s finale.
As the story progresses it soon becomes apparent that Rose is blinded by a particular vision for her two daughters and isn’t the best person to guide their careers. When June is offered a chance to train at a performing arts academy Rose turns the position down on her behalf not wishing to break up the act. Frustrated by the situation June runs away with one of the male performers Tulsa for a fresh start in the showbiz world. Rose is inconsolable until she happens upon the idea that the much less talented sister Louise will be the new start of the show. With a lust for fame in her eyes Rose belts out the number Everything’s Coming up Roses as the curtain falls on the first act.
However, rather than reaching new heights of fame Louise’s career plummets. As Rose continues to drag the same tired act around increasingly smaller venues the group ends up playing a burlesque club. When one of the usual strippers cannot make the performance Louise, with her mother’s blessing, agrees to go on instead. Realising that Rose will stop at nothing to see her daughter famous Herbie walks out on her.
To begin with the timid Louise is terrified of the audience as she stiffly moves around the stage. Rather than stripping off Louise removes just one glove as Rose reminds her that she is a lady and should never go any further than that. As Louise continues to take part in the burlesque circuit and perform in different venues throughout the country her confidence grows.
Mention must be made of the beautiful Victoria Hamilton-Barritt’s temperature-raising performance, confidently parading around the stage in heels and a basque then covering up with two giant feathers. At this point I had to ask myself was burlesque ever as sexy as this? Maybe… maybe not, whatever the case may be Victoria Hamilton-Barritt’s transformation from modest Louise into sexy stripper Gypsy Rose Lee certainly leaves a lasting impression.
Curve’s production of this landmark in musical theatre offers all of the entertainment and excitement of a massive Broadway production. It’s all here, the big band orchestration, huge backdrops, spectacular lighting and amazing theatrical performances. Yet for all of the glitz and glamour the most important element of Gypsy is the relationship between the three central characters. Rose’s all-out pursuit of the American Dream is both captivating and disturbing precisely because it turns out to be at the expense of the very people she is trying to help; herself and her two daughters. The show’s touching finale brought the audience to a standing ovation, evidence if anymore were needed that they had in fact witnessed a world class performance of a truly remarkable work.
Gypsy continues its runs at Curve until April 15th
To purchase tickets and for further information visit Curve at www.curveonline.co.uk, or call the box office on 0116 242 3595