Review: Gypsy

One of the greatest


To say that Imelda Staunton makes Momma Rose, one of musical theatre's iconic roles, all her own is not enough. You have to also say that since the show was first seen in1959, those who have played Rose - the mother of all pushy showbiz matriarchs - include Ethel Merman, Bernadette Peters and Angela Lansbury. Only then do you get a sense of Staunton's achievement - a performance that will go down in musical theatre history as one of the greatest of all time.

Jonathan Kent's production, which was first seen at Chichester, looks a little rickety on the Savoy's elegant stage. But in all other respects it does Jule Styne (music) and Stephen Sondheim's (lyrics) musical bio-drama proud.

Arthur Laurents's book was inspired by the real Gypsy Rose Lee and, in that role, the glacial Lara Pulver does a fine job moving from the dowdy, overlooked sister to the famous striptease act that was more tease than strip.

The other superbly realised transition here is the moment when the vaudeville act created by Momma Rose turns from a teeth-and-smiles dance routine performed by well-drilled children to the same act played by the same people as adults. It's like watching one era superimposed over another. On film it would barely get noticed. On stage, it's pure magic, as is Styne's and Sondheim's dazzling score, the irony of which Kent's production brings out beautifully.

It's the misplaced optimism of numbers Together Wherever We Go and the doozie of the all, Everything's Coming Up Roses that lends the songs such potency. When Staunton delivers it, it is not just the show that stops, but time itself. When she's not singing, the diminutive British actress prowls the stage like a fighter gearing up for a bout. If I have a quibble, Peter Davison as Momma's agent and lover could do with upping the amperage during the duets with Staunton. But the show belongs to Staunton and her portrait of aggressive vulnerability. No superlative would be an exaggeration.

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