Magazine article The Sondheim Review

Staunton's Turn: Gypsy's First London Production since 1973 Features a Powerful and Nuanced Rose

Magazine article The Sondheim Review

Staunton's Turn: Gypsy's First London Production since 1973 Features a Powerful and Nuanced Rose

Article excerpt

A lone trumpet blasts a few staccato notes as audience members find their seats at the Savoy Theatre in London's West End. That moment, while brief and taking place before the show itself, eloquently summarizes the 2015 production of Jule Styne, Arthur Laurents and Stephen Sondheim's Gypsy (April 15-Nov. 28, 2015). Rose (and Ethel Merman, who originated the role) is often compared to that brassy instrument, and Imelda Staunton was a palpable presence in the building even before theatregoers entered the auditorium. It's no accident that her name and image are displayed prominently on the theatre's marquee: She is the reason people are running to the show, and she delivers a performance worthy of the buzz. Best known outside of theatre circles for movies such as Vera Drake and the Harry Potter series, Staunton has made her mark in musicals co-written by Sondheim, earning her two Oliviers for Into the Woods' London debut and the 2012 West End transfer of Chichester Festival Theatre's Sweeney Todd.

The company behind the latter piece is also responsible for Gypsy, London's first production since the show's 1973 British premiere with Angela Lansbury. Staunton's dynamic performance as Rose immediately explains why she is the perfect actor to bring the show back to the West End.

In the moments before "Together Wherever We Go," Rose proclaims, "Like the good Lord says, you gotta take the rough with the smooth, Baby," and what sets Staunton's portrayal apart is her very ability to fuse the rough with the smooth: In a testament to her careful treatment of the role - and to Jonathan Kent's direction - Staunton carries off Rose's traditional brassiness with aplomb while imbuing the character with great sensitivity. Even among other impressive portrayals I've seen, this one stands out for its emotional range. As in a classical tragedy, the seed for this Rose's breakdown is planted early on. She delivers a triumphant "Some People," relishing the percussiveness of the lyric in words such as "butts" and "guts" and singing the number with a fierce look in her eye, almost scowling - a rendition anticipating the defiant lines that introduce "Rose's Turn."

She contrasts those loud, powerful moments, with quite vulnerable ones. In her first encounter with Herbie (Peter Davison), the spark in her eye and her innocent smile make her seem like a teenager in love for the first time. …

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