“I had a dream, a wonderful dream”
From the moment Imelda Staunton shook the very foundations of the Chichester Festival Theatre as Mama Rose in Gypsy, it was pretty much a given that a West End transfer of this Jule Styne/Stephen Sondheim show would be on the cards and that this incredible performance would be immortalised in an official cast recording. And it shouldn’t be taken for granted that Staunton is wowing audiences nightly at the Savoy and that we have been blessed with an album, for this is the kind of musical theatre perfection that surely only comes along once in a lifetime.
Much of the attention rightly falls on Staunton’s astonishingly nuanced portrayal of the ultimate stage mom but it would be a mistake to label this a one-woman show, Jonathan Kent’s production is far too good for that. She is supported by an extremely skilful performance from Lara Pulver as Gypsy Rose Lee, tracing this overlooked sister’s journey to unexpected stardom and listening to the growing confidence ‘Let Me Entertain You (Gypsy Strip)’, her shyness is cast off vocally as well as physically, like a chrysalis revealing the shimmering showgirl beneath.
There’s Peter Davison’s Herbie too, a daffy delight with Rose and Louise in ‘Together Wherever We Go’, Gemma Sutton’s Baby June is a vibrant presence whether as the infantilised ingénue or the independent instigator of rebellion as she seeks to break free, and lsla Huggins-Barr deserves special mention as her younger incarnation, a bright future beckons for this talented young star. Nicholas Skilbeck’s brassy and bright orchestrations are a joy to listen to in themselves, respectful but refreshed, that famous overture still a breath-taking introduction to this classic score.
And Staunton rises to the challenge of this iconic role with startling acuity, a psychological case study wrapped up in a barnstorming musical theatre turn, a combination which is devastatingly effective. From the early determination of ‘Some People’ to the fierce stridency of ‘Everything’s Coming Up Roses’, this Mama Rose seems indefatigable in the pursuit of her showbiz dreams but as we see in the climactic ‘Rose’s Turn’, her crumbling sanity is increasingly close to the edge. How she delivers this 8 times a week is just extraordinary but it’s probably for the best for her nervous constitution that we can now turn to this record to hear it again and again. Hugely recommended.