Thursday, 11 July 2013

Gypsy, (with Caroline O'Connor) July 10, 2013 ****1/2

Book by Arthur Laurents; Music by Jule Styne; Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
By The Production Company
State Theatre, Melbourne Arts Centre, July 6 to 14, 2013
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on July 10
Stars: **** 1/2

 Review also published in Herald Sun in print on Fri July 12, 2013 and later online. KH 
Caroline O'Connor as Rose in Gypsy

Gale Edwards’ exuberant production of Gypsy is a star vehicle showcasing musical theatre luminary Caroline O’Connor’s thrilling voice and incomparable performance in a role that confirms her position in musical theatre royalty.

The crowd goes wild when the impish O’Connor first appears on stage clutching a pug, and her virtuoso performance as Rose deserves every cheer that follows.

Although inspired by the life of sophisticated stripper, Gypsy Rose Lee (Christina Tan), this landmark musical spotlights her ruthlessly ambitious stage mother, Rose, as she forges a career in Vaudeville for her daughters, Louise/Gypsy (Tan) and June (Gemma-Ashley Kaplan).

Edwards’ production surrounds O’Connor with an exceptional cast, accomplished orchestra (conducted by Guy Simpson), elegant design (Adam Gardnir) and atmospheric, show-biz lighting (Paul Jackson, Robert Cuddon).

O’Connor portrays the bossy, driven Rose with compassion and humour, not depicting her as a monster, but rather as a feisty lioness ensuring the survival of her cubs.

Her Rose is a bold, doll-like, mischievous clown with a big personality, an even bigger voice and some genuinely hilarious physical comedy.

It is delicious to witness O’Connor’s consummate, nuanced and detailed performance of songs including Some People, the thrilling Everything’s Coming Up Roses, and her hilariously wicked chorus routine in Mr. Goldstone.

But O’Connor’s stunningly passionate, poignant version of Rose’s Turn is her most compelling and inspiring moment as Rose charts her desperate journey to fulfil her unrequited dreams through her daughters; she leaves the audience tear-stained.

Tan adroitly portrays Rose’s less talented daughter Louise’s metamorphosis from clumsy, introverted child into the sassy, confident and elegant Gypsy Rose Lee, with a stylish strip routine inventively choreographed by Andrew Hallsworth.

Chloe Dallimore, Nicki Wendt and Anne Wood, playing three outrageously costumed strippers in a Burlesque House, steal the show for a scene as they bump and grind through their raunchy tune, You Gotta Get A Gimmick.

Matt Hetherington is sympathetic and warm-voiced as Rose’s long-suffering lover Herbie, Kaplan captures the frustrated ambition of wannabe child-star June, and Nathan Pinnell’s dance routine, All I Need Is The Girl, is impressive.

Arthur Laurents’ cunningly wrought story celebrates the magic of show business but also depicts its pitfalls and broken dreams, while his dialogue creates rounded, complex and credible characters.

Composer Jule Styne created distinctive, memorable songs that are complemented by Stephen Sondheim’s witty, intelligent and unforgettable lyrics.

With the combined theatrical firepower of this rags-to-riches story, toe-tapping songs, and the impeccable performance of Caroline O’Connor, this production is a certified winner.

By Kate Herbert

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