Review: Gypsy (Savoy Theatre) JohnnyFox April 15, 2015 Musicals, Reviews Rose Thompson Hovick must have been one of the first practitioners of NLP. By constantly drumming in to her tapdancing infant that she was ‘gonna be a star’ Rose made it happen even if stripper Gypsy Rose Lee accidentally became a somewhat bigger name than the favoured sibling, actress June Havoc. It’s the technique tennis coach Richard Williams used on daughters Venus and Serena, with similar results. I used to think Gypsy was perfection, the pinnacle of the mid-century American musical genre with Jule Styne at the peak of his composing career and a young Stephen Sondheim writing the kind of taut and knowing lyrics which became his hallmark. Aside from the tremendous score, it’s almost unique in being such a strongly-structured book with no successful romance, no love songs, a plot driven entirely by two female characters and the men only ciphers. Remind yourself it was written in 1959 and your admiration should only grow. This time round I realised it’s a show that keeps its emotional powder dry a touch too long – Louise doesn’t blossom into Gypsy until the last twenty minutes, and Rose only reaches her personal epiphany in the final bars of the final song. That this may be a flaw was illustrated for me because both Imelda Staunton and Lara Pulver gave of their better-than-best in these scenes. Pulver had cleverly captured Louise’s gauche clumsiness, hilariously missing steps and entrances as the kids rehearse their lousy stage act but her emergence from the chrysalis was stellar. Staunton convinced as the driving and relentlessly driven stage mother, but it was her authentically shattered realisation of ultimate failure that empowered the final song and gave it such heart-rending, ovation-earning pathos. I have only once seen ‘Rose’s Turn’ delivered as well, in an intimate audience with Elaine Stritch who had been Ethel Merman’s never-used understudy in the original production. The kids perform with energy and great comic timing, but as Rose’s would-be boyfriend and agent Herbie, Peter Davison is a terrible replacement even for the hapless Kevin Whateley who let the side down at Chichester. Davison lumbers round the stage like a tuneless rogue elephant threatening to trample Staunton’s camp: I hope producers are currently poring over his contract and wondering where they can find a TV detective or ex-Doctor who can both sing and moisten the knickers of the mature matrons who buy tickets for vintage musicals. The casting of the strippers borders on genius: Anita-Louise Combe has Tessie Tura’s shrieking lower-East-Side ‘ladylike’ personality down to a ‘T’, the lovely Julie Legrand is completely subsumed into both the freakishly coiffured Electra and Mr T T Grantziger’s defensive secretary Miss Cratchitt, and bravely getting her gams out, Louise Gold is an outstanding Mazeppa, apparently mastering the trumpet as well as replicating the raspy voice of Faith Dane the astonishing actress who created the role and last year, at 91, ran for Mayor of Washington DC. In the ‘blighted’ parts of Dainty June and dancer Tulsa – no actor or actress who ever played them became a name above the title – I’d hope Gemma Sutton, so excellent as Julie in the Arcola’s Carousel, might break this spell but although Dan Burton had the moves, he didn’t have the spark. Gypsy is a fly-in-amber musical, no production has ever broken away from the original format of the stage show or the Rosalind Russell/Natalie Wood movie: you can’t shift its time period because it charts the end of Vaudeville and the American depression, it isn’t allegorical and won’t work in any other setting. But there is maybe a different show to be made, possibly as a sequel. The story is sanitized – in real life Rose was a much more formidable character than even her grotesque stage persona – when June eloped aged 15 with Bobby Reed, the dancer on whom Tulsa is based, she went to the police station with a gun concealed in her handbag and shot him. Later, when Gypsy was the highest-paid stripper in the world, she bought a succession of businesses for her mother to manage including a lesbian boarding house on the Upper West Side in New York which had a succession of bizarre residents, one of whom Rose also shot for making a pass at Gypsy. A fiercely protective mother to the end. What a story. What a character. What a show.