Gypsy The Musical Review | The Royal Exchange | Manchester
Rose, the meddling momager of nightmares has been resurrected for this year’s Royal Exchange Christmas musical. The wannabe star is back to put Kris Jenner and her daughters June and Louise in their place with her endless supply of gumption. With enough energy to power the Round, Rebecca Thornhill subbed the role of Rose for Ria Jones in the performance I witnessed. Playing a washed-up and pushy stage mother, living vicariously through her children is not an easy sell. However, Thornhill brings a relatability to Rose, selling her dreams to the audience in an engaging and unwavering performance.
Originally released in 1959, the musical revises Gypsy Rose Lee’s memoir that recounts how the striptease artist’s, ruthless mother motivated her move into burlesque. The mature musical loosely retells Lee’s bottomless ambition through Stephen Sondheim’s defiant lyrics, playing out the hardships and realities of show business. The West Side Story lyricist’s, Grammy Award-winning soundtrack explores the behind the scenes lifestyle of children June and Louise through Rose-coloured glasses.
Rose’s unsettling philosophy is played straight to the audience in Some People and Everything’s Coming Up Roses, which are a testament to her survival instincts despite also ringing with an underlying darkness. The captivating and complex character of Rose makes Gypsy a fantastic story in its own right. Still, the Royal Exchange’s slick production enhances the realistic tale with a few surprisingly fantastical layers. Showbusiness is a fickle business but director Jo Davies uplifts the travellers search for fame with a prop a minute turnover. Showcasing June and Louise’s lives from childhood to adulthood, the production neatly inserts a trampoline into the set of Let Me Entertain You to transition the cast from children to adults. It’s a sizeable ensemble for an Exchange show, and the talented children featured in the opening dance sequences weren’t even around to take the final bow, clearly past their bedtime.
In one of the best moments of the musical, the You Gotta Get a Gimmick number split between Suzie Chard, Lizzie Nance and Kate O’Donnell is a show-stealer. With over the top, increasingly ridiculous stripper gimmicks being played to the crowd, O’Donnell as Electra ends up wielding a circular saw at her crotch.
Plugging variety entertainment, 56 years after its release, Gypsy shows what running on ambition alone can get a person. It is not the sugary Christmas classic audiences may expect this time of year, but Gypsy is a timeless tale to the draws of fame and what people are willing to do to make a name for themselves.
You can also watch Gypsy the Musical on Amazon