Venue: Hayes Theatre Co (Potts Point NSW), May 18 – Jun 30, 2018
Book: Arthur Laurents
Music: Jule Styne
Lyrics: Stephen Sondheim
Director: Richard Carroll
Cast: Blazey Best, Laura Bunting, Anthony Harkin, Mark Hill, Rob Johnson, Matthew Predney, Jessica Vickers, Jane Watt, Sophie Wright
Images by Phil Erbacher
Probably the most well-known story about a stage mother, Gypsy is a highly-regarded biographical musical, that charts the early years of legendary American burlesque performer Gypsy Rose Lee, with particular focus on her mother Rose’s overzealous efforts at attaining stardom for her two daughters. The show is a fascinating character study, but also thoroughly entertaining, with a structure that seems to include every ingredient necessary for a sure-fire hit.
The production, directed by Richard Carroll, is inviting and warm, especially sensitive in its depiction of family dynamics. The narrative is conveyed with emotion and depth, but some of Gypsy’s theatricality is lost in the realism that it cultivates; both its humour and drama can occasionally feel underplayed, perhaps too understated in approach for a form that honours all things larger than life.
Rose is very convincing here, as the “momager” with good intentions. Played by Blazey Best, her maternal qualities are irrefutable, but parts of the character that are nefarious and abhorrent, are softened as a result, and dramatic tensions never quite reach beyond the adequate. Laura Bunting impresses in Act II, as we watch the performer take little Louise through a breathtaking transformation, into the international sensation that was Gypsy Rose Lee. As the character begins to find her strength and power, we become accordingly captivated, relieved to experience a brighter side to the mournful tale. Supporting actor Jane Watt chews the scenery as Cratchitt and again as Tessie Tura, delivering some truly marvellous moments of joyful laughter, whilst demonstrating extraordinary comic ability and presence, in a very unexpected coupling of roles.
Also memorable is scenic design by Alicia Clements, romantically evocative of auditoriums from the early twentieth century, complete with ornamental proscenium arches and velvet curtains. Scene changes are impeccably executed by a very attentive and efficient team, headed by Cara Woods, the stage manager who rises to the challenge of a very technically involved show.
When successes come to bear, past transgressions tend to turn easily forgiven. It is true that Gypsy’s fame and fortune had come, partially, as a result of Rose’s unconscionable behaviour, but there must be no denying the depravity of her ways. The cliché that “everything happens for a reason” is useful in helping people move forward, and although there is no virtue quite as awe-inspiring as forgiveness, Rose should only be seen as a villain, whether or not one is able to perceive her redeeming features. Parents are simply never allowed to violate the sanctity and responsibility, of nurturing and protecting their offspring, no matter what riches are at stake. Contemporary parallels to the Gypsy story abound, with the Kardashians, Jenners and Hadids currently most conspicuous. It can seem a fine line between love and exploitation, but the matter of parenting has no room for ambiguity.