Reviewed by Nikki Cotter
Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2
Since it first debuted on Broadway back in 1959, Gypsy, based on the memoirs of world-famous striptease artist Gypsy Rose Lee has cemented itself amongst theatre goers and critics alike as a cult classic.
The combination of Arthur Laurents emotionally rich book, Julie Styne’s sublime score and Sondheim’s clever lyrics are a magical starting point for any director, ensuring any recreation comes with high expectations. The challenge of staging the show in the round adding more than a little pressure to those expectations.
Director Jo Davies ensures her cast more than rise to the occasion in the Royal Exchange’s production as all sections of the audience are equally played to with the use of a huge revolving proscenium arch bedecked with Hollywood lights designed by Francis O’Connor.
The show bursts into vibrant life with a flurry of child stars twirling and tossing, vying for their moment in the spotlight, at the heart of them of course is Momma Rose, prompting and pushing Louise and Baby June to smile wider and kick higher.
Intentions set out from the start Baby June is without doubt the main event here with sister Louise playing second fiddle to her star-turn. The ultimate in pushy showbiz mothers, Momma Rose will make certain everyone knows what a talent her baby is, that is until pushed too far she abandons both her mother and sister in a bid to escape her mother’s obsessional drive. Forced to turn to her alternative due to her desperation for success wallflower Louise who lives life firmly in the background is thrust centre stage with astonishing results.
The energy from the young cast (the Red Team for tonight’s performance) is exceptional. They leap and bounce their way through opening number Let Me Entertain You (Rose’s Entrance) like they’ve been vaudeville stars all of their little lives with Marley Quinlan-Gardner giving a hilariously brilliant performance as the pouting, petulant Baby June. The changeover from children to adults is cleverly done, you barely realise it’s happening when suddenly it’s a grown-up cast twisting and twirling before you.
Ria Jones is outstanding as Momma Rose, addicted to the glamour of showbiz and prepared to sacrifice anything for the success of her daughters. So consumed by her need for success she dangerously risks losing everything due to her single-minded obsession for glory. Ria Jones gets to the very heart of Rose, witty and wonderfully charismatic with an unwavering determination her delivery of final number Rose’s Turn where she finally takes centre stage brings the house down, breathtakingly brilliant.
Often in productions of Gypsy it’s all about Momma Rose however Jo Davies ensures shy Louise is given full attention. Her character goes on the most incredible journey while her transformation into sensational striptease artist Gypsy Rose Lee is nothing short of magnificent. Melissa James is a sensation, delivering the role with great style, pure class and heaps of sass. She showcases Andrew Wright’s choreography to perfection while wowing in Gabrielle Dalton’s stunning costumes during her thrilling transformation number Let Me Entertain You (Gypsy’s Strip).
Lewis Gaunt as Tulsa offers a real standout moment with his beautifully executed performance of All I Need Is The Girl while Dale Rapley gives an incredibly touching performance as loyal Herbie.
One small quibble would be that while the revolving arch looks spectacular it does somewhat restrict your view if it stops directly in front of you, thankfully it moves frequently but it does feel a bit of a design flaw in an otherwise spectacular show.
Gypsy is a dazzling, daring production with both design and choreography beautifully evoking the long since vanished world of vauderville. Broadway is brought back to Manchester with a big, bold and beautiful bang. Another absolute triumph for the team at the Royal Exchange.
Gypsy runs at the Royal Exchange until 1st February after adding an extra week due to popular demand, tickets available here.