Since it opened in London last week, Stephen Sondheim’s Gypsy at The Savoy Theatre has attracted rave reviews – five star rating after five star rating – and has already extended its run until late November. Starring Imelda Staunton, and telling the story of the early life of Gypsy Rose Lee, Gypsy is this year’s must-see on a West End theatre break.
The production, which was the runaway success at last year’s Chichester Festival, has brought Gypsy back to the London stage after a 40 year absence. Anyone who is lucky enough to see Imelda Staunton’s performance as Momma Rose during this run will likely agree that it’s criminal that the show was away for so long. In a role made famous by Ethel Merman, Angela Lansbury and Bette Midler (in a TV version that was my first exposure to the show), Staunton had big shoes to fill even after all this time.
She more than does that – she makes Rose her own. Grifting, ruthless and vulnerable – it’s a demanding characterisation that Imelda Staunton achieves with energy to spare. She grabs us with her first big number ‘Some People’ and shows us the fierce but forgivable determination of a stage mother, whilst the iconic ‘Everything’s Coming up Roses’ captures her sheer bloody-mindedness perfectly. The show’s final number ‘Rose’s Turn’ is a fantastic showcase of Staunton’s musical theatre prowess, and you could feel the audience itching to get to their feet even before the number was over.
Staunton isn’t the only stand-out star. Her chemistry with Peter Davison as her lover and the act’s agent Herbie is good – their sweet, quiet romance hitting just the right tone. Lara Pulver meanwhile handles her transformation from the mousy Louise to the confident and sultry Gypsy Rose Lee really well, her performance understated and elegant.
The show is now though, understandably, being billed as ‘a triumph for Imelda Staunton’ (The Telegraph) – which of course it is, but the glory partly belongs to Stephen Sondheim. Though the music is a little old-fashioned – it is over 50 years old! – the score is an endearing classic, sharply witty and punchy to this day. There are few musicals in which there aren’t a couple of numbers that feel half-baked; in Gypsy the score is on the money from start to finish. Yes this production is a triumph – the source material helps a bit too!
Besides which, a few of the production’s most memorable numbers don’t feature Staunton at all. The young members of the ensemble give us a saccharin but genuinely brilliant version of ‘Let Me Entertain You’ early in the show, and Tulsa’s (Dan Burton) dance sequence in ‘All I Need is the Girl’ is beautifully executed. The biggest laughs of the night belong to the three strippers of ‘You Gotta Get a Gimmick’ – one of my favourite numbers, it delivered on my already-high expectations.
And that was the theme of my evening – huge expectations and anticipation easily met by a truly classy, tremendous production. Prior to last night, Stephen Sondheim’s Gypsy was perhaps my favourite musical I’d never actually seen onstage. But now that I have? It’s simply my favourite musical.
Planning to see Gypsy in the West End this year? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below!