Gypsy: A Musical Fable

Book by Arthur Laurents, music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Pitlochry Festival Theatre
Pitlochry Festival Theatre

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Shona White (Mama Rose) and Ben Stock (Herbie) Credit: Fraser Band
Blythe Jandoo (Louise), Ben Stock (Herbie) and Shona White (Mama Rose) Credit: Fraser Band
Jack Ward (Clarence), Patricia Panther (June), Blythe Jandoo (Louise) and Robbie Scott (Balloon Boy) Credit: Fraser Band
Oliver Cookson (Mr Goldstone), Shona White (Mama Rose) and the cast Credit: Fraser Band
Robbie Scott (Tulsa) and Blythe Jandoo (Louise) Credit: Fraser Band
Kristin Weichen Wong (Tessie), Trudy Ward (Electra) and Rachael McAllister (Mazeppa) Credit: Fraser Band
Blythe Jandoo (Louise) and Patricia Panther (June) Credit: Fraser Band
Shona White (Mama Rose), Patricia Panther (June), Blythe Jandoo (Louise) and Ben Stock (Herbie) Credit: Fraser Band

This 1959 musical, with a dream writing cast for the time of Laurents, Styne and Sondheim, is revived by Ben Occhipinti as the big musical running through the whole of the Pitlochry summer rep season.

Based on the memoirs of upmarket stripper Gypsy Rose Lee and set on the burlesque circuit of the 1920s, the story centres on the ultimate showbiz mother (though apparently not half as bad as the real person on whom she was based), Mama Rose, here given a barnstorming performance by Shona White. She drags her two daughters from theatre to theatre with terrible routines that she has invented centring on Baby June (Patricia Panther)—even long after she can seriously be described as a baby—with her sister Louise (Blythe Jandoo) in support and making the costumes. She bullies ex-agent Herbie (Ben Stock) into re-entering the business to represent them and promises to marry him when... well, the goalposts keep moving on that one.

But when June walks out on them and elopes with one of the boys from the act, Tulsa—Ben Stock, who is very impressive in his song and dance number "All I Need Is the Girl"—Rose forces shy Louise centre-stage. But burlesque is dying, they are struggling for bookings and they end up performing in a strip joint, but just as it seems Rose is prepared to give up and settle down with Herbie, she makes Louise try her hand at stripping. It turns out that she is very good at it, turning her sister's childish song "Let Me Entertain You" into a sultry, suggestive number, and it becomes her own escape from her controlling mother.

Liz Cooke's stage design is dominated by a stage within a stage, which is effective in allowing the audience to see both onstage and backstage at the same time, but can make some of the other scenes (and the band) look a little cramped. The stage management team deserves some applause for frequently moving and sometimes spinning at speed this cumbersome piece of scenery by hand very effectively.

Occipinti's production takes a while to get going and feels a little flat in parts, but the central trio of White, Jandoo and Stock hold it together with solid performances. There are some standout moments, especially Rose's two biggest numbers, "Everything's Coming Up Roses" to end act 1 with a bang and the final "Rose's Turn", where, having lost everything and almost everyone, Mother Courage-like, she picks herself up and moves on.

"You Gotta Get a Gimmick" is always a showstopper sung by the three experienced strippers giving Louise some advice: the superb Rachael McAllister as Mazeppa who manages to "bump it with a trumpet" with a trombone; Trudy Ward as Electra who has to juggle a double bass with the controls for her illuminated costume; and Kristin Weichen Wong, who is a great musician but often misses the rhythm of the dialogue, especially when delivering humour.

While I have a few reservations about the production, this is a great show and there are some very strong performances here that make it worth seeing.

Reviewer: David Chadderton

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