It’s a New Year, and what better way to celebrate 2016 by writing about the BBC telecast of “Gypsy,” which played at The Savoy Theater in London. This is probably my favorite musical of all time – it’s as perfect a show can get, with book by Arthur Laurents, music by Jule Styne, and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. To me, ‘Gypsy’ is the musical theater equivalent of pizza – even when it is a bad production, it is still good.
Not to say that Jonathan Kent’s production is bad. On the contrary, it’s an amazing piece of theater. The show as not been seen in London since 1973, and this marks its triumphant return to the West End. And what makes this production soar can be summed up in two words: Imelda Staunton. Her Rose is a performance for the ages: raw, brave, unforgettable. I have seen a couple of great Roses in my lifetime: Patti Lupone, Tyne Daly, Bernadette Peters. (I was born too late for Ethel Merman and Angela Lansbury, unfortunately) Each lady has had a different take on the character, and Staunton’s is unique: it’s terrifying, controlling, the madness is pronounced. One can argue that there is less charm in her performance. But Staunton trusts the material to do that for her. Her Rose may be more on the side of the horror show, but the show never lets us forget what drove Rose to that madness. This performance drove me to tears, for a different reason: I feel blessed to have seen it.
Laura Pulver is just as magnificent. Her Louise has a full transition from awkward to diva. A lot of previous productions of this show have not shown that as clearly, and this is achieved here because of Pulver. (Strangely, she reminds me of Laura Benanti, who was also magnificent in the last Broadway production)
The rest of the technical elements are as stellar – the sets by Anthony Ward. I have some quibbles with some of Stephen Mear’s choreography, especially with my favorite number from the show, “All I Need Is The Girl,” but they do not take away from the grandness of this production. I am truly glad BBC has filmed this great production for posterity – and Lonny price, who directed the broadcast, hits all the right notes, zooming in to character’s reactions at the right moments, and making the telecast stage-y without it being claustrophobic. This is as perfect as musical theater gets, and Happy New Year!