The musical Gypsy is a revered classic. Regarded by many as one of the greatest musicals ever written, it features the iconic role of Rose, the indomitable, domineering stage mother who attempts to live out her own dreams through her daughters June and Louise.
With music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim (written when he was still in his 20s) and book by Arthur Laurents, Gypsy was loosely based on the 1957 memoirs of famous striptease artist Gypsy Rose Lee. The original Broadway production opened in 1959 with Ethel Merman as Rose. Since then performers such as Angela Lansbury, Patti LuPone, Bernadette Peters, Imelda Staunton, and Australians Gloria Dawn, Toni Lamond, Judi Connelli and Caroline O’Connor have stepped into Rose’s shoes.
Blazey Best in Gypsy
Now it’s Blazey Best’s turn in a new production co-produced by Luckiest Productions and One Eyed Man Productions at the Hayes Theatre Co, directed by Richard Carroll. “It’s probably my favourite musical and I’m certainly not alone in that,” says Carroll, whose gloriously inventive, fourth-wall-storming production of Calamity Jane is now touring, having won rave reviews at the Hayes last year. “It’s actually a show that I’ve been plotting with Blazey since we worked together on Miracle City in 2014. It was at that point that I said to her, ‘do you know Gypsy, because you’d be an incredible Mama Rose?’ And she didn’t know the show, so I got hold of the script and cast recording and sent it to her, and she fell in love with it too. So I’m very excited to be doing the show with her especially,” says Carroll.
Set in America in the 1920s, Gypsy follows Rose and her daughters as they try to eke out a living on the touring circuit during the dying days of vaudeville and the birth of burlesque. The celebrated score is packed with classic songs such as Let Me Entertain You, Some People, Everything’s Coming Up Roses, You Gotta Get a Gimmick and the iconic Rose’s Turn. When a classic musical like Sweet Charity, Calamity Jane or Sondheim’s Assassins is staged at the Hayes you know that you are unlikely to see a traditional staging, given the intimacy and space restrictions of the 115-seat venue.
Asked about his approach to Gypsy, Carroll says he is aiming for a production that “explores the psychological aspects of the characters and the story, because it’s such a great script and the characters are so well-drawn. There is so much depth to find in the story.”
“Stylistically, it’s going to be quite a dark and slightly gritty, like a lot of the things you see at the Hayes, like what Dean Bryant did with Sweet Charity. It’s stripping it back and saying ‘what would the world of vaudeville in the 20s and 30s actually be like?’ And certainly moving into the world of burlesque, it was not a fun, happy showbiz place to be. They had hard lives and were on the margins of society, and always thinking about where their next meal came from, and in the case of Rose and Louise and June, always having to dodge the inspectors who wanted to take the girls back into school.”
Laura Bunting and Blazey Best in Gypsy
Laura Bunting, who performed in Carroll’s productions of Calamity Jane and Side Show at the Hayes, plays Louise. “What’s wonderful about Laura is that she looks like and sings like your classical musical theatre leading lady, but she’s an absolute nut case. Her choices are so unusual and she’s such a truthful actor that she’s always so compelling. So I really love working with her,” says Carroll. What’s more, Bunting plays the piano and clarinet, and will do so in the show.
In fact, several cast members will play instruments. “It’s something I also did in Calamity Jane, and there’s a number of reasons for it. One is that this is a story that’s set in the world of show business, so I thought it was really important we don’t separate the cast and the band completely. There’s a sense that it’s a gang all existing in that world, and all have multiple skills and all make a living any way that they can. So we’ll have some actors playing instruments as part of their onstage performances within the world of the show.”
“It also means that for some of the bigger numbers, we can augment the [five-piece] band that we’re going to have in-house and create a much larger sound,” says Carroll.
Musical Director Joe Accaria has done new arrangements. “I’ve known Joe for a long time and when we approached him, he didn’t know the show. He’d done musicals but he’s not in the world of musical theatre, and that’s been really valuable because he didn’t approach it with a sense of weight and expectation from previous versions,” says Carroll. “He listened to the music and read the script and just responded to it, and so that’s been really exciting.”
Gypsy plays at the Hayes Theatre Co, Sydney, May 18 – June 30