Sometimes – and it does not happen often – you see a musical that blows your mind and Gypsy is such. It does not have one memorable song whilst some great musicals like Oliver, My Fair Lady or South Pacific have many, so what makes this such a success? I would say two factors: a powerful story-line and fine acting.
The story is of Rose a mother driven by ambition for her two young daughters and forcing them along in their stage career. Rose is well played by Imelda Staunton who late in life has emerged as one of our best and most versatile actresses. She can sing, dance and above all act in the difficult role of a woman who is half monster, half loving mother but does not lose our sympathy. The themes of talent v determination, maternal love v ambitious obsession, jealousy v encouragement are universal and modern, which ensures the musical is not dated. There is no Business like Show Business with Ethel Merman tended to sentimentalise the showbiz family. Gypsy shows it warts and all with all the trauma of arguments of family life. Isla Huggins-Barr playing Baby Jane, a nine year old, in rather ludicrous sets and costumes flies the coop and ambition is transferred to the other daughter Baby Louise (Lara Pulver). Peter Davison plays an agent who becomes involved with Rose and her shows. Shows about and within shows are usually intriguing. The question who was responsible for success, mother or daughter, becomes a battle ground.
Once again Jonathan Church at Chichester has put on a show that became a West End success. Taken at Midnight with Penelope Wilton, also successfully transferred. Nancy Bright Thompson of this parish was arguing that, apart from the sport in Sussex, the arts are well represented in the county with Chichester and Glyndebourne.
This was almost exclusively an elderly audience. It might have been the night but this surprised me. Perhaps the prices put off a younger crowd. It was not just a highest price of £90 for best seat but £2-50 a for small bottle of water or £4-50 for programme that told you little. Still, I must not complain as this was one of the best nights I have had at the theatre for years.