Tag Archives: Jule Styne



The Mill at Sonning

GYPSY at The Mill at Sonning



“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


Gentlemen Prefer Blondes


Union Theatre

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

Union Theatre

Reviewed – 8th October 2019



“a spectacularly over-the-top production and a monumentally good time”


Whilst originally a Broadway show (based on the novel by Anita Loos) starring Carol Channing, it’s Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell’s killer pairing in the iconic 1953 film adaptation that’s kept this story live and kicking in the musical canon. Even if you haven’t seen it, you’re sure to be familiar with the glorious fuchsia-scarlet clash in Miss Monroe’s absurdly decadent number, ‘Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend’. Much like most of Marilyn’s back-catalogue, the play’s plot isn’t quite besides the point, but it’s third to the big showstopper numbers, and whoever has the daunting task of filling her inimitable shoes.

Lorelai (Abigayle Honeywill), a small town girl with a penchant for diamonds, has her eye set on a sugar daddy to provide her a life-time supply of the sparkling little gems. When her deep-pocketed fiancé (Aaron Bannister-Davies) catches wind of her sordid past, she feels certain that he’ll break off their engagement, so she immediately goes in search of a wealthy replacement, with the help of her friend and ‘chaperone’, Dorothy (Eleanor Lakin).

Honeywill is a perfect Marilyn type: white blonde, strikingly beautiful and a small hip wag away from charming most anyone out of their life savings. Presumably, though, she doesn’t want to be accused of merely playing Marylin rather than the character herself, so in an act of defiance she’s taken on this Lina Lamont-type nasal squeal. Whilst it proves comic at times, it’s not sustainable, particularly when singing. Honeywill has a beautiful singing voice and she can’t resist giving it her all, but she ends up sounding schizophrenic, swapping between a bold, sometimes husky tone to an insufferable screech, and back again.

The principals are all perfectly cast. Lakin’s Dorothy is brilliantly mocking and tongue-in-cheek, and Freddie King, playing Henry Spofford, finds an endearing balance between being charmingly artless and just plain charming. The chorus is brimming with triple threats, and it seems they’ve been as carefully cast as the main characters.

With the amazing Sasha Regan once again directing, the production is quite spectacular. With such a small stage, and the accompanying piano (Henry Brennan) and drums taking up a good chunk of it, it seems dangerous to have so many high-kicking, split-leaping, almost gymnastic dance numbers with a cast of eighteen. But choreographer Zak Nemorin seems determined to present the high production value that this show deserves, regardless of whether the drummer gets disturbingly close to getting kicked in the face on several occasions.

Justin Williams has cleverly pared the set right back so at least there are no tables and chairs for the chorus to break their necks on. Instead, a scarlet red carpet runs dramatically down the back wall and all the way to the front, preparing us for the big number we all know and love. Unfortunately, ‘Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend’ falls a little short when the time comes. The lighting (Hector Murray), though otherwise beautiful executed, on this occasion blacks out the red back-drop and simultaneously washes out Lorelei’s pink gown. The song itself is a little quiet and the only occasion during the entire production when I remember thinking the band could do with a couple of muted trumpets. This is the only disappointing number, and really only because the ‘53 version is so vivid.

What with the set not providing much atmosphere, the costumes (Penn O’Gara) certainly make up for it, with gorgeous silhouettes aplenty and fringe for days.

There’s an amazing amount of songs packed in (music by Jule Styne and lyrics by Leo Robin), and to ensure they’re all covered, the plot in the second half gets a little lost. But as I said, no-one’s here for a gripping twist, or an emotional think piece. We’re here for a spectacularly over-the-top production and a monumentally good time, and ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’ delivers in spades.


Reviewed by Miriam Sallon

Photography by Mark Senior


Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

Union Theatre until 26th October


Previously reviewed at this venue:
Around the World in Eighty Days | ★★★ | August 2018
Midnight | ★★★★★ | September 2018
Brass | ★★★★ | November 2018
Striking 12 | ★★★★ | December 2018
An Enemy of the People | ★★ | January 2019
Can-Can! | ★★★★ | February 2019
Othello | ★★★★ | March 2019
Elegies For Angels, Punks And Raging Queens | ★★★ | May 2019
Daphne, Tommy, The Colonel And Phil | | July 2019
Showtune | ★★★★ | August 2019


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