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CENTRAL ENGLAND: Mike Wheeler's concert reviews from Nottingham and Derbyshire feature high profile artists on the UK circuit - often quite early on their tours.
Following the runaway success of A Little Night Music last year, Buxton Festival and Buxton Opera House have teamed up again for another great Broadway show – Buxton Opera House, Buxton, Derbyshire, UK, 9 July 2022.
With a book by Arthur Laurents, lyrics by an up-and-coming Stephen Sondheim and music by Jule Styne, Gypsy is based on the memoirs of stripper Gypsy Rose Lee, but actually centres on her mother, Rose. Rose is determined to make her other daughter, June, a child star on the vaudeville circuit in late 1920s America. Her problem is, she doesn't know when to stop pushing. Eventually, June has had enough and runs away with Tulsa, the lead male dancer in the hackneyed routine Rose has imposed on her and the rest of the troupe, year after year. So, with agent and lover Herbie handling the bookings, Rose turns her attention to shy, retiring Louise. Work is hard to come by, and in desperation, Herbie books Louise into a seedy provincial burlesque theatre. Rose is shocked, but Louise recognises they have little choice, and her new career starts to take off, as she gains confidence, and each new triumph tops the last. But Rose's barnstorming final number, 'Rose's turn' is an explosion of rage and frustration as she eventually realises the truth about how she's behaved all along. Not for nothing has Gypsy been called the King Lear of musicals.
Rose is a gift of a role for a singing actress with boundless stage presence – it was written for Ethel Merman, after all – and Joanna Riding's electrifying performance inhabits every inch of it; in 'Rose's turn' she delivers a masterclass in how to command an otherwise empty stage.
As June, Hannah Everest is no spoiled show-biz brat, but explores June's off-stage humanity. Monique Young's Louise grows convincingly, from someone who knows she is an also-ran, into a solo performer with her own kind of star quality. There is a touching closeness to her relationship with June, explored in their duet 'If Momma was married'. It's a common-place to say that decent, dependable characters are not easy to create on stage, but David Leonard succeeds in making Herbie sympathetic and interesting, not least at the moment when he too, gives up on Rose and walks away.
Rebecca Lisewski, Aiesha Naomi Pease and Tiffany Graves, as the three burlesque dancers in Act II, Mazeppa, Electra and Tessie Tura, give 'You gotta get a gimmick' all the brash vulgarity the number needs, as they explain to Louise what kind of theatrical world she's ended up in.
Liam Dean makes the most of his one solo number as Tulsa, 'All I need is the girl', including a dazzling tap-dance routine. James Rockey is a frazzled Uncle Jocko, host of the kiddies' talent show where the story begins. And what a supremely talented bunch of kids this production has brought together for Rose's production numbers in Act I. In particular, Sienna May, as Baby June, grabs every opportunity that comes her way.
Paul Kerryson directs, and his endlessly inventive staging is well served by David Needham's choreography. Conductor Ben Atkinson and the orchestra bring both warmth and sassiness to the score. Gypsy has had some sensational new productions in the last few years. This is one of them.
Copyright © 18 July 2022
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