Thursday, August 18

Gypsy – Buxton Opera House

Let Me Entertain You! And we certainly were entertained last night as Gypsy opened at the Buxton Opera House as part of the annual Buxton International Festival.

Gypsy, written by Jule Styne (music), Stephen Sondheim (lyrics) and Arthur Laurents (book),  premiered on Broadway in 1959, and tells the story of Mama Rose and her two daughters: June and Louise, as they navigate the world of American Vaudeville in the 1920s and 30s. Rose has become known as the ultimate show business mother – the pushy mum who puts all her energy into seeking success and stardom for her daughter; but there is so much more to this story, which I won’t spoil here if you haven’t seen it yet!

This is by far the funniest production of Gypsy I’ve ever seen; director Paul Kerryson has leaned into every single moment of comedy. Nowhere is this more true than in the raucous rendition of ‘You Gotta Get a Gimmick’ performed to loud applause by Tiffany Graves, Rebecca Lisewski and Aiesha Pease.

However, it is this over-the-top comedy that perfectly mirrors the depth of emotion portrayed by the exceptional Joanna Riding as Mama Rose. Ms Riding is a wonderfully natural performer, and she explored every nuance of her character, never taking the easy or stereotypical road. Her performance in Rose’s final scene was deeply moving, as she picked out and examined each of Rose’s emotions, assessing her motives and keeping us guessing right up to the final moment, when she reached her dramatic conclusion.

It seems strange to say that this production is beautifully ambiguous… not a term one would often deem positive in the theatre. However, Ms Riding, David Leonard as her partner Herbie, and Monique Young as Louise made it very clear that nobody in this play is entirely good or entirely bad, seamlessly emphasizing the grey areas of humanity and highlighting the light and the shade of each of their characters.

Ms Young deserves particular mention for her character arc; her moment of transition from Louise as she became Gypsy was very powerful. Also, kudos to Lisa Dent for stepping up as June at such short notice! Sadly, some of the featured ensemble didn’t quite shine as much as those in the principal roles, but overall, they helped to move the story along.

A lot of thought had clearly gone into the set, with doors and props doubling up to create lots of different settings without too much difficulty. In addition, the manual scene changes threw back to the era of the play; and while the breaks did give the orchestra a chance to shine, they also interrupted the flow of the story a little. I imagine that this provided relief for some and frustration for others, depending on your usual theatre-going experience. The sound was well balanced, as I’ve come to expect from this venue, and other than a few slow lighting moments at the start, I thought the lighting design served to highlight the story well.

If you are looking for a classical musical, with clever lyrics, catchy melodies, and strong storytelling this one is certainly for you. Buxton Opera House continues its tradition of excellent summer musicals, and this one is not to be missed!

Gypsy continues its run at the Buxton Opera House as part of the Buxton International Festival with show dates until Sunday 24th July. More information and ticket links can be found here: https://buxtonoperahouse.org.uk/event/gypsy-a-musical-fable More information about the Buxton International Festival can be found here: https://buxtonfestival.co.uk/

Reviewer: Jo Tillotson

Reviewed: 7th July 2022

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★

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