Friday, 30 March 2012

Review: 'Gypsy'

Gin & Vodka Productions, The Star Theatres, 24 November – 2 December 2011. Music by Jules Styne, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, book by Arthur Laurents. Directed by Vince Fusco and Joshua Penley.

Gypsy has been called American musical theatre’s King Lear. Since its 1959 premiere, it has been revived countless times on Broadway and in London, and the role of Mama Rose, Gypsy’s domineering mother, has become one of musical theatre’s most coveted. With music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by Arthur Laurents, Gypsy transforms the memoirs of striptease star Gypsy Rose Lee into what is perhaps the definitive theatrical rendering of the ‘stage mother from hell’ story. It chronicles Mama Rose’s unending efforts to propel one of her daughters into stardom. When June rebels, Rose turns to the shy Louise to fulfil her all-consuming dream of raising her family above their humdrum, Great Depression era lives.
            In their programme notes, directors Vince Fusco and Joshua Penley describe Gypsy as having ‘stood the test of time again and again’ but, unsurprisingly for a show which is over fifty years old, it is showing its age. Songs such as ‘Everything’s Coming up Roses’, ‘Some People’ and ‘Let Me Entertain You’ are amongst musical theatre’s most recognisable and remain infectious but the rags-to-riches, obsessive stage mother and reluctant star aspects of Gypsy’s story have become overfamiliar through a panoply of films, books and plays. Much of the dialogue creaks, and not all of the comedy sits comfortably with 21st century sensibilities. Gin & Vodka Productions, however, succeed in blowing enough of the cobwebs off Gypsy to ensure that this production is an enjoyable one.
            April Stuart turns in an extraordinary performance as Mama Rose, seemingly effortlessly capturing her character’s complex and at times contradictory personality. Stuart has described playing the role as the fulfilment of a dream and she clearly relishes every moment on stage, demanding both ire and empathy from the audience. Lindsay Dunn, as Rose’s long-suffering partner Herbie, is solid but more impressive are Chloe Truehl and Jessica Voivenel who play Rose’s daughters June and Louise with much skill and flair. Voivenel’s transition from the naive Louise to the seductive Gypsy is utterly convincing. It is this transition, along with the brief but highly entertaining cameos by Amy Hutchinson, Nicole Christopoulos and Vanessa Shirley as the burlesque performers Tessie Tura, Mazeppa and Electra that make the second act the better of the two. The first, at a touch over an hour and a half long, drags and ultimately runs out of steam. Of the plethora of other performers, Todd Emmett is the most impressive as Tulsa, one of the boys from Rose’s increasingly ropey act. Emmett proves to be Gypsy’s standout triple threat, singing, dancing and acting with commendable dexterity and enthusiasm. His first act tap routine is a showstopper.
            It is the strength of these performances that ensure Gypsy’s success. The show’s cheap and cheery production values work, as does the altered denouement which sees the second act end on a pleasingly ambiguous note. The band are not, unfortunately, always on song but their occasional lapses are not enough to diminish what is an engaging showcase of some of Adelaide’s most talented musical theatre performers.

An edited version of this review appeared in dB Magazine, 14 December 2011.           

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