Publicity Designer: Ed Bankes

Gypsy is a musical which delights in its own genre. Musical Theatre — specifically its sister-antecedent genre, Vaudeville — is the subject of the story (the book is by the inimitable Arthur Laurents, who also wrote West Side Story and Hallelujah, Baby!), and the ideas of performance and performing, their power and human cost, are continually interrogated by the piece. The story concerns Mama Rose (the dazzling Ashleigh Weir), her two child-performer daughters, Louise (Laura Pujos) and June (Heather Conder), and her irrepressible desire to see their names ‘up in lights’. What starts out as a Vaudeville child-routine for ‘Baby June’ (well played, with almost frightening verve, by Molly-May Omaha Keston) and ‘Baby Louise’ (Amber Abrahams, who simply through the constraints of the story doesn’t get as much of a look in) becomes a tired-out act for the increasingly grown-up June and Louise, sustained only by Mama Rose’s iron-clad ambition for them. What follows are a series of difficult questions, regarding the motives behind parental ambition, and ultimately as to what constitutes the fabric of parental love.

“An impressive and multi-talented ensemble.”

The cast, under the sensitive, resourceful direction of Alistair Henfrey, form an impressive and multi-talented ensemble. There are dancers, singers, actors, a clarinet mime artist (which might have been more convincing if he’d put the mouth piece actually in his mouth), four children (good actors all), and a dog. The vast amounts of choreography in the show are a considerable credit to choreographers Natalie Haslam and Daphne Chia. Tom Taplin (as Tulsa) deserves a special mention for his tap-dancing, Fred Astaire-like routine in ‘All I Need Is The Girl’ (later to become something of a Jazz Standard at the hands of Sinatra and others). The technical demands of the show, with its frequent shows-within-the-show, are daunting, but Henfrey and his team remain undaunted. Mentions must go to Lisa Bernhardt as Master Carpenter, Constance Ayrton, Claudia Spoor, and Martha Cook, who created a large number of convincing costumes, and Theo Heymann, of whose Lighting Design a lot is asked — and whose answers are imaginative and convincing.

“A hugely enjoyable evening at the ADC.”

The tightest and most enjoyable scenes in this production are between the four principals, Conder, Pujos, Joe Pieri (whose acting as the long-suffering agent and suitor Herbie is stand-out), and Weir. In fact, Weir as Mama Rose seems at moments to bear the whole weight of the show (with no discredit meant to the rest of the cast), driving the piece forward as her character drives her children. I hope she can sustain what must be an incredibly exhausting performance over the whole run. Amaya Holman, too, deserves mention for her easy stage presence as Tessie Tura, who was joined by the swaggeringly plausible Nina Vinther and Martha Cook for an appropriately gutsy rendition of ‘You Gotta Get a Gimick’, in which Sondheim’s lyrics sparkle (unsurprisingly), as they do throughout the show.

Michael Cullen should certainly be praised for his careful preparation of the singers, and so too for fixing a band willing to have a creditable (if sometimes unsuccessful) crack at Jule Styne’s genuinely difficult score, which switches at the drop of a hat from pastiche (Vaudeville-style show numbers, Big Band jazz, and even the American National Anthem) to heart-on-sleeve, lyrical melody.

In all, the cast and crew of this production should be praised for a sterling effort at realising this classic (some say the classic) American musical on a student budget and time-scale. It makes for a hugely enjoyable evening at the ADC which I would thoroughly recommend