If you’ve been anywhere near a London Underground escalator lately, you can’t have missed the posters exclaiming how exceptional Imelda Staunton’s performance in Gypsy at the Savoy Theatre is. Bugged by being reminded of this all the time, I decided to see the show for myself, and so I booked a seat in the last row, right next to the sound booth.
Last rows don’t bother me. Besides, the Savoy Theatre is smaller than other West End venues. I remember tearing up from the very last row during Miss Saigon, and this time, during Gypsy, it happened again.
This new production of Gypsy, directed by Jonathan Kent and choreographed by Stephen Mear, is quite a treat! It is very colourful, funny, and quite emotional. It tells a story inspired by the memoirs of Gypsy Rose Lee. Momma Rose (Imelda Staunton) is determined to turn her kids, and a few other children she discovers, into show stars. From very young ages, she trains them in dance and song and tours with them around the USA in the 1920s. As the kids grow up, the choreographies stay the same, which starts frustrating the members of the company. The “kids” are grown and ready to lead their own lives.
When Momma Rose’s kids company slowly disintegrates, her daughter Lee reluctantly still stays with her, but for how much longer can she stand living with her controlling mother? As the years and shows progress, we learn where Rose’s obsession with show business really comes from.
There is so much talent in this production, from the set design and its complementing costumes to the lighting, especially as the children’s choreography leads into adulthood.
What particularly stood out for me was some of the choreography, for instance between Tulsa (Dan Burton) and Louise (Gemma Sutton), as Tulsa is trying to explain that he wants to be a dancer, but independently from Momma Rose. As Burton sings and dances, it is as if he is floating on air. Stephen Mear’s choreography shows Tulsa’s longing for something sweet beyond the life he is living. He is a true artist and expresses great passion through his movements, without wanting to make a sound in case he is overheard. This passage is exquisite.
Lauren Hall as June is also a joy to watch as Gypsy Rose Lee’s sister with the bigger dancing talent between the two. She also has so much to express through her body, and we sense her frustration at her life being overly “choreographed” by her mother.
Finally, Staunton is the true sensation of this show, with her petite figure giving it all in this role. She plays a fidgety and perhaps hyperactive woman who can never be satisfied or truly settle down with any man: none of her former husbands ever understood her obsession with show business and divorced her. While she is hurt by this abandonment, as she calls it, her true pain comes from her wanting to be in the spotlight herself but feeling she missed the opportunity. She is probably the original stage parent!
As the children’s company she’s built and nurtured (but without pay) progressively leaves her, she notices how much she’s lied to herself. A heartbreaking sequence in the final act shows her utterly speechless when trying to express through song what she truly wants from her life.
This is a beautiful show with lessons on all fronts about the passions we should pursue in life and how happiness is found within, not through others.