Review: Gypsy at the Hayes Theatre

Diana Carroll

Director Richard Carroll tames Mama Rose in this musical theatre classic.
Review: Gypsy at the Hayes Theatre
Laura Bunting in Gypsy showing at Hayes Theatre. Photo by Phil Erbacher.

Musical theatre buffs have adored Gypsy since the moment it premiered on Broadway in 1959. It is the quintessential story of an unrelenting stage mother, Mama Rose, vicariously living her dreams through her not-so-talented daughters June and Louise.  Loosely based on the memoirs of burlesque entertainer Gypsy Rose Lee, published two earlier, the show is mainly set in small-town America during the Depression.  Vaudeville is dying and the touring acts that were at its heart are struggling to survive.

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Mama Rose is an anti-hero, the woman you love to hate.  She is demanding, domineering, and desperate, and a dreadful bully to her daughters, June and Louise, and Herbie, the failed showbiz agent who is fool enough to want to be her fourth husband.  The entire show revolves around Rose and so we need to feel some empathy for her despite her being so dislikeable.  And she has to carry some of the most iconic songs in musical theatre with music by Jule Styne and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.

Blazey Best and Laura Bunting in Gypsy showing at Hayes Theatre. Photo by Phil Erbacher.

Blazey Best, well-known to Sydney theatre audiences,  tackles the role with all her stagecraft and enthusiasm but just isn’t totally convincing, failing to fully reveal the character’s emotional journey.  Of course this also reflects on Richard Carroll’s direction.  You can’t tame Rose without reducing the show’s power because its impact lies in her total awfulness and desperation.  And Best’s singing is frustratingly uneven, especially in the first few numbers.  Gypsy is all about the songs, so this is a fatal flaw.  The orchestration has also been pulled back by musical director Joe Accaria.  This works quite well, but it would be better if we could see the musicians on stage to give the music an immediacy that would sit well in the intimate space of the Hayes Theatre.

Laura Bunting, Sophie Wright and Jessica Vickers are engaging as Rose’s daughters and Anthony Harkin is likeable as Herbie.  Mark Hill, Rob Johnson, Matthew Predney, and Jane Watt make up the rest of the cast with Hill doing a brilliant job as Tulsa.  The set and costume designs work well and effectively recreate the shabbiness of the Depression vaudeville milieu.

Gypsy is a long show, so all the elements have to come together. This production feels just a little too one-dimensional, lacking the depth and contrasts needed to sustain the audience through two and half hours plus interval. 

3 stars ★★★

Gypsy

Presented by Luckiest Productions and One Eyed Man Productions in association with Hayes Theatre Company
Book by Arthur Laurents, Music by Jule Styne, Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.
Director: Richard Carroll
Musical Director: Joe Accaria
Choreographer: Cameron Mitchell
Designer: Alicia Clements
Lighting Designer: Trent Suidgeest
Producers: Lisa Campbell and Richard Carroll
Cast:  Blazey Best, Laura Bunting, Anthony Harkin, Mark Hill, Rob Johnson, Matthew Predney, Jessica Vickers, Jane Watt and Sophie Wright

Hayes Theatre, Potts Point
On until 18 June 2018
What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Dr Diana Carroll is a writer, speaker, and reviewer based in Sydney. Her work has been published in newspapers and magazines including the SMH, the Oz, Woman's Day, and B&T. Writing about the arts is one of her great passions.

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