The one with the ultimate pushy parent?
In a day of “everyone wants to be famous” with shows such as Britain’s Got Talent and X Factor “showcasing” talent of a younger age each series you can’t help but think of the push parent waiting in the wings making sure their youngster does every turn and hits every note that they collectively have been working on together. However in Gypsy, a musical with Music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by Arthur Laurents the character of Momma Rose cemented the role of stagey parent way back in 1959 and is still as relevant today!
Director Paul Kerryson and Leicester Curve have revived this production which featured in London in 1973. The production which has had countless revivals on Broadway seemingly works as the theme of the production, despite being some 60 years old, is just as entertaining today and popular within the industry of everyone being able to recall an account of such mothers. Which brings the impossible situation of casting the role, Momma Rose has been played by many great Broadway stars including Ethel Merman, Angela Lansbury, Bernadette Peters and Patti LuPone so who could take on these huge shoes and succeed.
Enter Caroline O’Connor. I am very pleased to say that O’Connor delivers the role of Rose with all the poise and conviction of a caricature of a stagey mother, but with the warmth, and the stark reality as she concludes the piece with her rendition of “Rose’s Turn”, in which the audience applauded for a great length of time. It would be very easy to play this part for laughs, and over dramatise the character but O’Connor performs the role with a believability that actually all she wants is for her children to have the life she never had.
At a time where Vaudeville is on the way out and Burlesque is the next big thing. Rose continues blinkered by her own determination that her babies are growing up, and Vaudeville is dying out. Her full on approach to ensure her troupe get seen by every talent scout, often by storming the stage, only further remove herself from how she might push her daughters away. At a turning point in the piece where child “star” Dainty June played by Daisy Maywood elopes with fellow performer Tulsa, who may I add performed by Jason Winter gave the audience a sensational dance routine as the boy who has aspirations of a modern dance act, left Rose bereft. A beautiful moment where the realisation kicks in is quickly taken away as Rose turns and decides that Louise, played by Victoria Hamilton-Barritt becomes her latest project.
On a misunderstanding in a booking, Louise’s show is booked into a Burlesque joint and much to Rose’s objection money for the failing Vaudeville crowd is tight and so they must perform. The style of show is exemplified as three overtly confident women, Mazeppa by Lucinda Shaw, Electra by Jane Fowler and Tessie Tura by Geraldine Fitzgerald take us through the raunchy and highly entertaining “You gotta get a gimmick” as number that has been performed countless times.
As Louise becomes the star, and long term love interest Herbie realises Rose will never marry him, as she is deeply married to the industry, Rose suddenly finds herself as the mother who isn’t needed anymore, so where does that leave Rose.
Kerryson has created a superb revival of a show that deserves the bright stars that have littered the reviews. O’Connor takes you on an emotional journey where you cannot, despite all the drama and determination, feel for her and her situation.