Tag Archives: Chris Whybrow

Gypsy

Gypsy

★★★★★

The Mill at Sonning

GYPSY at The Mill at Sonning

★★★★★

Gypsy

“Rebecca Thornhill is quite remarkable as Rose, establishing her personality as the pushy, determined, possessive matriarch”

 

Billed as ‘A Musical Fable’ (although the pedants among us would describe it as a parable), “Gypsy” camouflages its many moral messages in a sheer razzamatazz account of the real-life Gypsy Rose Lee; the highest paid striptease artist of her time. Supposedly born sometime around 1910, the date has always been unclear due to her mother, Rose, constantly re-inventing her daughters’ ages to satisfy her own needs and the fluctuating child labour laws. It is Rose herself who ultimately occupies the central theme of what has been described as one of the ‘greatest American musicals’. Then again, it is hard to go wrong with composer Jule Styne, lyricist Stephen Sondheim and writer Arthur Laurents.

Joseph Pitcher’s production is one of The Mill at Sonning’s boldest projects to date which, it is safe to say, doesn’t put a foot wrong either. From the outset we are thrust into the precarious, decadent and exciting Vaudeville world of the 1920s. The overture – worthy of a night out in itself – spills onto and beyond the stage, musicians mingling with cast and audience, characters appearing from suitcases, and a colourful hint of the kaleidoscopic range of Natalie Titchener’s outstanding costumes.

The show displays the contrasting atmospheres of the world depicted. The highs, the lows, the glamour and the shabbiness. Sisters Louise and June are growing up in this world under the formidable shadow of Rose. The ultimate ‘showbusiness mother’, she pushes her daughters into the spotlight and into her own failed dreams with disastrous effects. The more vivacious June is pushed away, while the shy Louise longs for a normal life, eventually eclipsing her mother. Ultimately, she finds her own success in the world she sought to escape, transforming into ‘Gypsy Rose Lee’. Although it is her memoirs that inform the story, it is the mother’s voice that tells it and steals the show.

Rebecca Thornhill is quite remarkable as Rose, establishing her personality as the pushy, determined, possessive matriarch. But far from grotesque. She does monstrous things but is not a monster, and Thornhill perfectly understands that dichotomy. The comedic twinkle is matched by a sincere vulnerability that pulls the character away from cartoon brashness and, amazingly, we end up really rooting for her. If “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” is a showstopping climax to the first act, just wait for her rendition of “Rosie’s Turn” in Act Two.

Evelyn Hoskins, as Louise, wears the timid awkwardness like a mantle to protect herself. When forced to shed this (and, of course, more) her wide eyed abidance is quite moving, tipped by a heart-rending moment when she gazes back at her younger self. The transformation is complete, and uplifting, as she picks up the familiar motif number “Let Me Entertain You”. It’s a fascinating journey. Lost on the way, thanks to the antics of Rose, are sister June (an impressive Marina Tavolieri) and Daniel Crowder’s big-hearted agent Herbie. Crowder skilfully steps through the eggshells Rose has laid, dispelling humour and joy and ultimately heartbreak as the armour of his illusions are shattered.

This fine company brings out the best of Styne’s score and Sondheim’s inimitable lyrics, with choreography and production values to equal any West End or Broadway revival. It is a story of contradictions and contrasts. There is a darkness that is lightened by the witty libretto and sumptuous score, and a hardness that is softened by emotionally charged performances and the slick staging. There are lessons to be learned from the ‘fable’, but it never slips into platitude.

Rose tells her daughters to “leave them begging for more – then don’t give it to them”. This production certainly leaves us wanting more, but gives it to us too. In bucketloads. “Let Me Entertain You” it proclaims. Just try stopping them! A stylish, superbly crafted show that is also steeped in sympathy for the main characters. Since its original Broadway production in 1959, producers have toyed with the ending, often leaving it open as to whether there is reconciliation. This one? Well – just go and find out for yourself.

 

Reviewed on 1st June 2023

by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Andreas Lambis

 

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:

 

Barefoot in the Park | ★★★★ | July 2022
Top Hat | ★★★★ | November 2022

 

Click here to read all our latest reviews

 

Allegiance

Allegiance

★★★★

Charing Cross Theatre

ALLEGIANCE at the Charing Cross Theatre

★★★★

Allegiance

“The cast was absolutely outstanding, with not a single weak performance amongst them”

 

It is an interesting choice to hold Allegiance at The Charing Cross Theatre. The small, quirky theatre was recently home to From Here to Eternity, a stunning musical which told the story of American soldiers stationed in Hawaii during the Pearl Harbour Attack. Allegiance feels rather like a sequel to From Here to Eternity, telling the story of the aftermath from the perspective of the Japanese Americans.

George Takei’s touching musical tells the true story of the Japanese Americans forced into internment camps following the Pearl Harbour attack. A place where Takei spent a large portion of his childhood. It is clear that this musical is written from personal experience and was filled with heart. It is a moving story and a stark portrayal of the racism that was ingrained in society at the time, and a warning signal for the modern era.

The music (Jay Kuo) was cleverly written, with traditional Japanese themes intertwined with American Big Band style, and much like the cultures in the show, these styles were at times complementing each other, and at others appearing to clash somewhat.

The cast was absolutely outstanding, with not a single weak performance amongst them. A few stand outs  were Telly Leung as Sammy Kimura, a young Japanese American feeling torn between his citizenship and his heritage. The song Allegiance, led by Sammy and his father (Masashi Fujimoto) was sublime. Patrick Munday as Frankie Suzuki led another fantastic performance in the song Paradise. However, the showstopper for me was Aynrand Ferrer, a powerhouse vocalist whose performance was filled with emotion. Her ballad Higher was truly breath-taking.

Given the heart-breaking subject matter, I was surprised to find some genuinely very funny moments in the show – George Takei is a great comic actor, with the humorous moments heightened by the hopeless situation that the characters were in at the time.

The set (Mayou Trikerioti) was simple and effective, however with the traverse staging, it sometimes felt like one side of the audience or another was being left out of the action a little, or that the performers were trying to find a happy medium, and at times appeared to be performing to the walls between the audience sections.

Allegiance is an incredibly powerful show that highlights an important and often overlooked part of history, and holds a vital lesson for the modern era to prevent history from repeating itself.

 

 

Reviewed on 17th January 2023

by Suzanne Curley

Photography by Tristram Kenton

 

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:

Pippin | ★★★★ | July 2021
Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike | ★★★ | November 2021
Ride | ★★★★★ | August 2022
The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore | ★★★ | October 2022
From Here To Eternity | ★★★★ | November 2022

 

Click here to read all our latest reviews