Everything’s coming up up roses
By Bradley Storer
The Production Company brings together a star-studded cast in this presentation of what can be described as the greatest musical in the American tradition. Like a musical version of King Lear, Gypsy presents the tale of Mama Rose as she fights, batters and tramples all the obstacles in the way of propelling her two daughters to stardom, even as they resist and try to escape her iron grip.
Christina Tan as the young girl who grows up to be the eponymous Gypsy Rose Lee, is perfect as both the boyish, plain Louise at the beginning of the show, looking adorably innocent in her baggy oversized clothes, as well as the glamorous and seductive burlesque star that she becomes over the course of the narrative. However, in the strip tease sequence in Act Two (which illustrates Gypsy’s rise to her full potential as well as to stardom) Tan does not fully embody the burgeoning self-confidence and realisation that would bridge the gap between the two sides of the character.
Gemma-Ashley Kaplan as Baby June, Rose’s favoured child, brings both perkiness, a bright piercing belt and an underlying exhaustion to the role – her younger counterpart is equally amazing, possibly more so in some of her dances! Nathan Pinnell as the dancer who runs away with her steals the show with just one song and a brilliant choreographed dream ballet (choreography by Andrew Hallsworth).
The brilliant Caroline O’Connor is a phenomenon as Mama Rose, bringing layer upon layer to this larger-than-life character. This is a woman so consumed by her dreams and fantasy of stardom (vicariously lived out through her daughters) that she is hopelessly disconnected from everyone around her, most of all her family. In every one of Baby June’s dances we see Mama Rose flitting in and out of the background and off to the side of the stage repeating the choreography; whenever she by chance enters the spotlight her face breaks out in with unadulterated pleasure that is simultaneously comic and pathetic. O’Connor’s characterization brings to mind those other great tragic characters of American literature, Willy Loman and Blanche DuBois, both sustained and eventually destroyed by their dreams.
Matt Hetherington as Herbie, her lover/business partner is quite subdued, but the pair have a sweetness that makes the disintegration of their relationship as a result of Rose’s ambition all the more poignant – here Hetherington shines with a quiet dignity.
Gale Edwards brings an expansive directorial vision to this great American musical, emphasising how all these characters, whether or not they are onstage, are performers – acting out their own internal fantasies or forced to live inside a role that has been thrust on them by someone.
Venue: The State Theatre, The Arts Centre, 100 St Kilda Rd
Dates: Sat July 6th/Wed 10th/Thur 11th/Fri 12th/Sat 13th at 7:30pm; Sat July 6th/Sat 13th at 2pm; Sun July 7th/Sun 14th at 3pm
Prices: From $23 (C Reserve U18) to (A Reserve) $115