Left – Caroline O'Connor and Matt Hetherington. Cover – Caroline O'Connor. Photos – Jeff Busby
Gypsy opened on Broadway in 1959, when the Broadway musical was enjoying one of its most successful periods. An immediate triumph, the show became a classic, dealing with not only the backstage world of the theatre, but was also based on true characters.
While the story itself dealt with the upbringing of two girls thrust onto the stage, June (who would later find fame in Hollywood as June Havoc) and Louise (who would become one of the most famous strippers in the world of burlesque, Gypsy Rose Lee), the show was really about the ultimate backstage mother, Rose. Sometimes a monster, but also a woman determined and driven like no other.
The role was written for Ethel Merman, the performer with the mega voice and stage presence. Every performer who has attempted to play Rose has always been measured against her standard.
Gypsy is demanding, with a book (rather than songs) that tells much of the story. It has a dark side, dealing with a woman and mother who cannot let go of her own missed dreams and opportunities.
The role of Rose is unbelievably demanding. She drives the story from beginning to end, and has to sing most of the numbers on the show, many of them stand-alone show-stoppers.
The Production Company attempted Gypsy once before, in 2000, giving Judi Connelli the opportunity to play one of musical theatre's greatest female roles. And both she, and the production were well received.
This time, with something of a make-over, The Production Company has excelled itself with a stunning production where almost all the parts fit beautifully together.
A new stylish design from Adam Gardnir, creates a great backdrop for the action, complimented by Paul Jackson and Robert Cuddon's impressive lighting effects. Award winning designer Tim Chappel joins the Company for the first time, and creates some delightful costumes.
Gale Edwards, who scored some success last season with Chess, returns to slightly re-invent Gypsy. Some changes and tweaks have been made, including a dream ballet sequence, which will not necessarily please the purists, but on the whole I think that she has pulled this one off in a much greater fashion.
Andrew Hallsworth's choreography is a joy and constantly inventive, and Orchestra Victoria is a treat, led by the talented Guy Simpson. The lengthy overture enjoyed a resounding and well deserved round of loud applause.
But of course, it's the actors on stage who have to pull this off as well. It is difficult to single out individuals as everyone rose to the occasion and delivered some great work.
Standouts include Nathan Pinnell as Tulsa, an impressive performance that is sure to be noticed by all in the industry, especially with his sparkling moment All I Need is the Girl.
Chloe Dallimore, Nicki Wendt and Anne Wood deservedly shine as the comic relief with You Gotta Get a Gimmick. Christina Tan proves that she can move from tomboy to stunner as Louise, in a very stong performance.
Caroline O'Connor is nothing less than remarkable as Rose. She's had a few choice roles over the years, including Velma in Chicago and Fanny Brice in Funny Girl. Here she cements her claim to a role that she was arguably born to inherit. Her Rose is broad, loud and crazy, but also funny, sad, and in her final moment, heart breaking.
O'Connor never delivers anything less than her best, and she tackles Rose with everything she has. It is a performance that everyone wants to see. Merman would be proud.
It is amazing that The Production Company are able to execute a production of this quality with such a limited rehearsal time. This production of Gypsy deserves a much bigger season/audience. Absolutely go and see it!
The Production Company presents
music by Jule Styne | lyrics by Stephen Sondheim | book by Arthur Laurents
Director Gale Edwards
Venue: State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne
Dates: 6 – 14 July, 2013
Bookings: artscentremelbourne.com.au | 1300 182 183