I was privileged enough to see Gypsy with Imelda Staunton this past week at the Savoy Theatre in London’s West End. My gosh, it was a treat. By far one of the most wonderful productions I have ever seen.
Gypsy tells the story of pushy stage mother Rose (Staunton) and her two daughters, Baby June and Louise, the latter of which who goes on to become burlesque sensation Gypsy Rose Lee.
The role of Rose was made famous by Ethel Merman and subsequently performed by such talents as Patti LuPone, Angela Lansbury and Bernadette Peters. So how then could Staunton step into such star-spangled shoes?
Quite impressively, in my humble opinion. Not only does she have a powerhouse voice but her impressive acting talent lends to subtleties in her vocal performance that show Rose’s own insecurities and desires. Following in the footsteps of such larger-than-life ladies like Merman, the petite stature of Staunton shows Rose as a tiny ticking time bomb, getting more desperate with each failed performance of her girls’ attempts at vaudeville, before she explodes in a burst of talent and spectacle with the outstanding finale of Rose’s Turn.
This clip is just a preview, a glimpse into the vocal ability of Staunton. But to really embrace it, you simply must see her in action. It’s not enough to keep pressing repeat on YouTube, her sincere talent is only really accessible from the Savoy Theatre where a multitude of emotions cross her face in one song of some four minutes.
I won’t lie, I did get a bit emotional as Staunton took her bow to a full theatre of standing ovations. Not only due to how wonderful the show’s emotional story is but because of my own awe at how impressive a performance Staunton gave. I felt extremely privileged to have seen such talent in the flesh, especially from the second row where every beat is palpable.
The lady next to me seemed surprised to be seated next to a 21-year-old. This was unsurprising considering the average age in the audience must have been around 65. She asked me if I thought the show was outdated.
Not at all Mrs Seat-Next-To-Me. This is a story about ambition and loss and heartbreak and desire. Though it’s set in the vaudeville circuits of the early 20th century, its themes are equally powerful today. Add to that the untouchable music and lyrics of Jule Styne and the king himself Mr Stephen Sondheim, you get a theatre show that transcends generations and one that should be equally loved by young and old alike.
It’s been called a ‘once-in-a-lifetime‘ experience and I can’t validate that any more. The show is only running in London until November, which in my opinion is a great great shame. I understand that actors want to move on, and it wouldn’t surprise me if Staunton needed a change from such a demanding role as Rose. However, it seems such a pity that more people won’t have access to this supreme show, with or without Staunton, as it is truly one of the greatest pieces of musical theatre ever written.
Staunton is electrifying and a chutzpah-filled fireball, made even more impressive by her diminutive stature. Perhaps it is this that truly separates her from Merman – vastly different in shape and thus portrayal, Staunton’s Rose is a firecracker in a tiny package, making her determination only more frightening and engaging.
So, in my humble opinion – that of a lifelong theatre lover, with not much talent herself – this is by far the best show of the season (which I can say without having seen any other shows this season!) and deserves all the accolades and praise it is being given. Brava to Miss Staunton and the whole cast of Gypsy, and to you, if you’re out there reading this, log off my page and purchase your tickets and let the wonderful story of Gypsy truly entertain you.