Get set for a night of high kicks, old Hollywood glamour, backstage shenanigans, feathers and lipstick, all under the watchful eye of Rose – the pushiest showbiz mum in town.
Gypsy, a musical fable loosely based on the 1957 memoirs of Gypsy Rose Lee, the infamous queen of burlesque, takes us from vaudeville to Broadway.
This brassy tale glitters with gold as we are introduced to Louise (later Gypsy Rose Lee) and June, two kids caught up in show business thanks to their ambitious mother. Directed by Jo Davies, previously at the helm of Twelfth Night, Ria Jones sparkles as Momma Rose. She’s a real tour-de-force bringing the house down with Stephen Sondheim hits including Everything’s Coming up Roses, Together (Wherever We Go) and Let Me Entertain You.
Backstage is put front and centre stage as the glamour of the 1930s is brought to life with a tap-dancing chorus line, choreographed throughout by Andrew Wright, accompanied by an elevated orchestra, supervised by Joel Fram.
At its heart the musical is Rose’s show; we watch her desperate need to get away from ‘humdrum people’ and plan and scheme her daughters’ stardom. She’s a warm but manic mother played with exasperating energy by Jones. Meanwhile, June goes from child star – ‘dainty June’ – to solo artist and Rose decries Louise’s lack of ‘talent.’ Quite what she’d make of today’s reality ‘stars’ is a mystery. Much to her mother’s dismay, Louise discovers striptease and morphs into the stripping sensation Gypsy Rose Lee.
The show explores the inter-generational energies between a mother and her offspring. In Rose’s Turn, Jones admits her own dreams of stardom – ”what I been holding down inside of me, if I ever let it out, there wouldn’t be signs big enough. There wouldn’t be lights bright enough.”
As ever at Manchester’s Royal Exchange the staging is exceptional with windows and beds lowered from the roof, conjuring up dowdy rooms from the Depression, and bright cherry-red Chinese restaurants where Rose feasts on chow mein.
The plot changes gear as we meet two comedy strippers – Mazeppa (Suzie Chard), the Romanesque trumpet player, and Electra (Kate O’Donnell) who welds live on stage. Sparks fly as they introduce Gypsy into the world of striptease and finally the American dream is realised.
Gypsy is jam-packed with glitzy razzmatazz and receives a standing ovation. ‘Tis the season for sequins, dancing and show tunes. This swell 30s spectacle bursts with festive flair – let Gypsy entertain you…
Images by Johan Persson
Gypsy is at the Royal Exchange Theatre until January 25, 2020: https://www.royalexchange.co.uk/whats-on-and-tickets/gypsy