Hello everyone, apologies for the absence, so much family and work stuff has happened in the last 4 weeks that DiscoveringDiana has just fallen by the waste side a bit. However, I have discovered many things! So hopefully lots of fresh content will be coming very often this month 🙂 Happy December, countdown to Christmas is officially on.
I love going to the theatre and watching things I would typically not choose to see. This was the case on Wednesday 21st of October.
I know this is a bit weird to admit, but as a thespian you don’t always involve yourself in every piece of theatre or film based on theatre that you can. Gypsy was never a show that fascinated me, I didn’t even know what it was about or did I have any immediate desire to watch it. I knew of it, knew its most famous song ‘Everything is coming up roses’, I knew it was a thing that existed but really not much more. I knew for a fact that it was one of my best friends’ favourite musical, but for the life of me I did not know why. Attending Gypsy came around for two very simple reasons: Imelda Stauton – DUH! – and it was a present from me for a friend’s birthday. Needless to say we both were in for a complete surprise as we both came from the same Gypsy ignorant group – and we call ourselves thespians, shame on us!
So Gypsy is set in the late 50s and 60s, and is a musical that follows the memoirs of Burlesque performer Gypsy Rose. The plot, however, centres itself around Rose, Gypsy’s mother, and the lengths this woman went to to guarantee her daughters’ success, even to the point of ruining the family relationship. It is an incredibly American plot, with the stubborn desire for more leading the way for Rose’s incessant plotting and scheming of theatrical greatness in Vaudeville.
Imelda Stauton is A M A Z I N G! Can anyone deny this? I watched her a few year’s ago in another Sondheim piece, Sweeney Todd the Demon Barber of Fleet Street, where she played Mrs Lovett. She is just joy in a box. Her vocal prowess and strength is incredible, and it is such a flexible tone. From Rose to Mrs Lovett she is able to embody a character so entirely that it extends to her voice. A lot of actors I have found revert back to one vocal line when singing and can only hold a character and make them standout in straight acting situations. Being able to differentiate character even in song is a great ability to master, and Stauton has it down to a T. She honestly sounds NOTHING alike in each of the pieces I have seen her act in let alone sing. It is truly humbling to be in the presence of such a rich talent, who has voiced puny yet terrifying Umbridge, to the lustful and desire ridden Mrs Lovett, to motherly determined Rose. I cannot extend the amount of shivers this woman caused me that evening, especially because she stood right next to me to make her first entrance on stage. I was in the same air bubble as Imelda, and myself and my friend shamelessly gasped and shrieked when we realised she was RIGHT THERE.
Aside from the incredible performance of the protagonist, the remainder of the cast was incredibly talented. From the children performers to the adult versions of Rose’s children, the entire cast held their role and their parts in the world of Rose very well. There is not much I can say, effortless singing and dancing, great comedic moments from some, but to be honest the entire cast, and indeed the entire piece, falls flat in the background of Imelda’s outstanding performance as well as Rose’s overzealous personality and way of living.
As much as I enjoyed Gypsy, there are a lot of aspects of it that I have to analyse. For me, at many points this story has no need to be shared as a musical. I find most successful musicals the musical numbers actually drive the plot forward and seem to influence the story. I felt the musical numbers in gypsy existed to simply make the play a musical. Aside from some numbers most of them were unnecessary. I understand that the piece has to demonstrate Rose’s failed attempts to grant her daughters’ success by constantly re-hashing dead and exhausted performance numbers, but this is in itself becomes tiring for the audience. From one perspective this makes Sondheim’s musical very static, very unmovable. It seems the show never truly evolves because Rose – the lead character – is constantly on the same page. However it shows that in the background the world and her daughters are evolving and growing up. If this was used as a device, then Sondheim wrote the static music perfectly. The numbers therefore become a true aid to the play to continuously show the cyclical never changing nature of Rose’s path. Stuck with tunnel vision her life is reflected in the repetitive nature of the song numbers. Now thinking about it, that would be what Sondheim did, as he is obviously a genius.
However, from an audience view point, Sondheim loses the interest precisely because of this technique. Then again, if you were offered a front seat to the saga of Rose’s life that’s exactly what you would have felt. The pivotal numbers ‘Everything is coming up roses’ and ‘Rose’s Turn’ demonstrate the true determination of the woman in succeeding. Once for her children and once finally for her. We know that really her projection of her desires towards her children’s lives stem from her own wish to be accepted and loved which make Rose a very human character – although incredibly demanding and driven. By the end of the show, just in time for ‘Rose’s turn’ everything seems to take a sudden halt, as Rose has been abandoned by the daughter she coddled and pushed to success, and abandoned by the daughter who once wanted to please her the most. At this point she is able to analyse her own life in reflection of what she had done to her daughter and family, how she has driven them away by wanting to drive them to a success written entirely in her own rules. She cracks, and Sondheim’s lyrics here beautifully portray the break down and thought process of the character, who in the end is somewhat redeemed as we are given a shred of hope that everything will be alright when Louise seemingly suggests that she will forgive her mother.
Complete highlight of the performance for me was a very well written and staged introduction to the world of burlesque! With Anita Louise Combe, Louise Gold and Julie Legrand taking the roles of Tessie Tura, Mazzeppa and Electra respectively, they introduced and seduced Louise into entering the world of Burlesque. It is very fun number that steals all the comedic thunder of the musical, with phenomenal shabby choreography, great inventive and interactive costumes and three incredible actresses that have no fear in looking, acting and sounding like fools, it really did brighten my day in the middle of an otherwise incredibly intense play.
I feel that Gypsy is a very entertaining musical, incredibly American in its ambition and characters. It is flamboyant but also somewhat understated musically. With very little original large musical numbers, and very repetitive music that add to the overall feel of the piece, it is a musical I was more than happy to have the pleasure of watching before closing in November. I feel it was a great choice of revival for 2014/15 when younger generations and even my current one is struggling to achieve immediate success in many industries and we are all being pressured from every direction. It is a learning lesson for parents and children alike, it is fun and lively, but also quite emotionally consuming. The performances delivered were absolutely captivating and incredible. I for one, as someone who always wants the music to be the driving force of the musical, felt a bit robbed of that pleasure when I saw it, but upon thinking about it I find it very refreshing and intelligent to show the music reflecting the entire mind of one particular character, Rose the true driving force of the piece.
Please watch it if it ever returns! Or get your hands on one of the recordings which will be kept in the archives of the Drama and Theatre Department of the V&A – Victoria Albert Museum – and you will be able to watch it for a very small fee.
Let me know what you have been watching at the theatre lately!