Gypsy, live from the Savoy Theatre

Gypsy has been a musical I’ve wanted to see for years, but has never quite been top of my long list of things I want to see.

Until I saw Imelda Staunton was taking on the lead.

And then the even better news came: BBC4 would be broadcasting the show live from the Savoy Theatre over Christmas. It offered the perfect opportunity to see the show without having to justify to myself the ticket prices, and is something I’m so pleased they decided to do.

To be able to see the production on stage as it’s done at the theatre, with audience in situ, but with camerawork allowing close-ups of the actors, was a fantastic chance and one I really enjoyed.

I knew very little about the show, except for a single song, ‘Some People’, which I had performed in a show aged about 13.

Gypsy, the musical, tells the story of burlesque star Gypsy Rose Lee, but is really the story of her mother, Rose. Focusing on ‘Gypsy’s’ (originally named Louise) childhood for the first part of the show, Rose’s absolute obsession with making her daughter’s vaudeville stars is a fascinating tale.

Imelda Staunton’s absolute mastery of the mother role was staggering. She is of course an immensely talented actress, but the way she portrayed the woman trying to push her daughters forward in life and just getting her methods very wrong was beautiful. The desperation was there, and the belief she was doing what she thought would help her family, along with the stubborn view that her way was the only way. Staunton had some great songs in the show, and her performances of each were flawless. A true star.

The young June and Louise, played by Scarlet Roche and Lara Wollington, were convincing and confident. Roche carried off the confident, obnoxious little star role well, and Wollington’s seriousness and caring nature paved the way well for ‘older’ Louise to continue the story. I did find some of the scenes in Act One a little too long - I could have done with one less song about cows! – but the girls performed them very well. Gemma Sutton continued Roche’s characteristics convincingly into the older June, and although she wasn’t present for long, she had the audience on-side.

Louise, played by Lara Pulver, was an interesting character and one the audience can feel huge sympathy for. There’s a sense of pride when she begins to stand on her own feet, and Pulver pulled off the conflicting sides of the Louise/Gypsy Rose Lee character well. I have to say I didn’t enjoy the burlesque montage, when she was establishing herself as a star. I’m not sure what it was about it, but that was the one part of Act Two which felt less convincing, as if it had been put together in a hurry. Aside from this section though, Pulver’s stage presence was captivating, and I loved the later scenes between her and Staunton.

The staging of this production is cleverly done, with apparently very busy ‘rooms’ being moved on and off the stage. Lighting was cleverly used to plunge unused parts of the set into total darkness, and the spotlights used during solos and intimate moments were masterfully controlled.
To conclude: I was impressed. The production is slick as a whole, but Imelda Staunton’s phenomenal performance makes it really something special.

Thank you, BBC4, for allowing a new ‘audience’ to tune in and enjoy the talent of those at the Savoy Theatre.

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