1 November 2014

Imelda Staunton shines in Gypsy at Chichester Festival Theatre

Gypsy was another musical that I got dragged to because friends who live in Chichester wanted to see it and I was interested enough to give it a go.

I booked it some time in advance for a time that looked convenient (an empty Saturday afternoon) and then my diary filled up with a foreign holiday that finished on the Friday and a trip down to Weymouth on the Sunday. That made the trip to Chichester a flying one.

Reasonably prompt booking got me a good seat (Stalls C47) at a good price (£25) for a performance that was sold out, as much of the run had been.

I knew even less about Gypsy than I do about most of the shows that I go to. When booking I knew that it was by Sondheim and on the day I learnt that it was about Gypsy Rose Lee. And I thought that it might have been based on Carmen!

The arrangements at the Festival Theatre were significantly different from my previous visit and this time the orchestra was in a pit at the front of the stage. I do not know whether that is common practice there but I had mixed feelings about it; it helped the music but took the front of the stage out of play and made it more like a normal proscenium stage rather than a thrust stage.

The staging was bit of a problem throughout. I was just about OK in my seat, you can see the view I had below, but those more to the sides than me, and there were about ten seats to my left, would have missed some of the action. This production may have started at the Festival Theatre but it had clearly been designed for the London stage with a transfer in mind.

The story of Gypsy was a fairly simple one. A showbiz family with a reasonably popular vaudeville act, something like the Partridge Family, struggled to survive as fashions changed and the children grew up.

Driving the family and trying to keep the show on the road was their mother, Rose, played by Imelda Staunton.Somewhere along the way she picked up a man, Herbie played (unexpectedly) by Kevin Whately.

Gypsy Rose Lee only emerged from the act toward the end of the play and then by accident.  Gypsy was the story of how Gypsy Rose Lee was created and, as such, was a story about her mother, Rose. It was almost a one woman show.

And what a woman. Imelda Staunton was absolutely blistering as Rose as she rode the ups and downs of both a struggling showbiz life and a difficult family life. She could sing too. In one of her more optimistic moments she sang, Everything's Coming up Roses, the one song that I recognised.

I found Gypsy to be a fairly slight musical that was light on plot and on memorable music and it may even have been a disappointment if not for Imelda Staunton who made it something special with her mesmerising performance.

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