Considering the unadulterated brilliance of this brass-filled Sondheim classic, Alistair Henfrey’s and Michael Cullen’s production of an iconic American musical – often noted as Broadway’s answer to ‘King Lear’ – should be perceived as a valiant attempt at recreating a juggernaut.
Loosely based on the memoirs of striptease artist Gypsy Lee Rose, the entire show was basically what would have happened if Kris Jenner were alive and thriving in the first half of the 1900s. As crude as the idea might be, picture an episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians, only with more emotional depth and less frivolity; if you like the idea, Gypsy is the show for you. The attention to detail Henfrey has set out to depict is laudable: the props are simple yet effective — there is no need for a lavish set to impress.
The true selling point of the show, however, lies in the talent of the cast. The character of Mama Rose has been played by incomparable Broadway legends such as Ethel Merman and more recently, Patti LuPone. Ashleigh Weir takes on the mantle of the Orpheum Circuit-obsessed Rose with care. In the final scene, Weir launched into a gloomy refrain of ‘Rose’s Turn’ and did not hold back – punctuating ‘and me’ with increasing intensity, the all-consuming lunacy and unadulterated selfishness of Rose’s ambitions captured perfectly. Sondheim’s lyrics depend on parlando to resonate; Henfrey and Cullen understand this and ensure that it is never overlooked. The supporting cast, in particular, were meticulous in their attention to detail. Some notable performances include the four young boys as newsboys and Tom Taplin’s Tulsa.
Nonetheless, the show did not come without significant flaws – the technical aspects of it were disappointing. Plagued with an unfortunate amount of ill-timed segues as well as mic issues, these mistakes took away some element of the fantastic from the musical- however, sound issues such as these are often teething issues on opening night, which are not necessarily replicated in later performances. The music was also slightly dissonant, although this was not easily noticeable. Sadly, the American accents were unconvincing to the point of being mildly distracting – almost all members of the cast slipped into their natural accent at some point.
All in all, Henfrey and Cullen have bravely endeavoured to take on what is possibly the greatest American musical. Despite some fairly major issues with regards to execution, Gypsy makes for a relaxing night out at the ADC.