Chronic Illness Friendly: 4/5 (strobe/flashing lights, but not as many as in the West End version!)
So here’s the thing. I never saw the West End version of Gypsy in person, but watching the recorded version on TV (Live from the Savoy Theatre, 2015) was damn near a religious experience for me. I fell in love with this musical, and Imelda Staunton’s performance of Rose’s Turn genuinely almost had me up off the sofa to give her a standing ovation, despite the fact I was sobbing alone in my living room. I can’t even express how much Gypsy moved me, and I can only pray that Imelda comes back to the role for another West End stint or UK tour in the future.
Now that we’ve established that I kind of like this musical a little bit, let’s move on. Obviously I knew nothing was going to live up to that West End performance, but I was pleasantly surprised by Pick Me Up Theatre‘s take on Gypsy, at York’s Grand Opera House. There were things that were great and things that were not so great, but I am SO thankful that my pessimistically low expectations going into the theatre were exceeded.
Gypsy tells the tale of crazed stage-mama Rose, and her quest to make her two daughters, June and Louise, into stars… at any cost. Mama Rose’s steely determination for her daughters to succeed in the industry, combined with the unpredictable events that take place during their travels, see her husband-to-be Herbie and talented daughter June abandon her, whilst the quiet, withdrawn daughter Louise become the world’s greatest burlesque entertainer.
There were two stand-out performers in the cast for me: Maya Tether as Dainty June, and Katie Melia as Tessie Tura the stripper. For me, it was the over-the-top caricature performances that these two gave that sold the whole show. I feel like other members of the cast were also going for the same effect, but sometimes just fell a little short of really pushing it out there and getting the same comedic effect that these two did. Susannah Baines as Rose also gave a wonderful vocal performance. I did feel that her characterisation of Rose was a bit softer and more mellow than the vindictive, vicious desperation of the stage mother (seen in the traditional version of the character) that really adds that extra dynamic to the storyline, but it worked. Nick Lewis also gave a notable, emotional performance as Herbie.
I think the biggest downfall for me was that the direction of this particular performance seemed to conceal some of the comedy that’s woven in to the storyline. Small details like the car prop covering people’s faces, and props on the table in the Chinese restaurant covering the lighthearted moment where Rose swipes the cutlery from their meal into her handbag. All of these things could perhaps have been a little cleaner. The same applied to the choreography: moments where individual performers were humorously a beat behind could have been even more effective if the routine had been more clean, with the rest of the cast performing more in-sync.
Costuming, set and lighting were all excellent; it must have been difficult to recreate the same West End effect in a smaller scale production such as this one, but it was handled well by what clearly must have been a dedicated and talented technical and backstage team. The burlesque outfits in particular were stunning, and really dazzled on stage. That pantomime cow’s face is definitely going to haunt my dream for the next few nights, but those appearances in particular were some of my favourite moments throughout the show.
Overall, I thought this production had some really wonderful moments that re-iterated just why this musical is such an all-time favourite. The show was fast-paced and professional throughout, and the audience seemed to love it. Congratulations to all at Pick Me Up Theatre on a wonderful show!
Photo Credits: Pick Me Up Theatre