Theatre Review: GYPSY – Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester

Ria Jones as Rose in GYPSY.

Ria Jones as Rose in GYPSY at Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester. Photo Credit: Johan Persson

“Everything’s Coming Up Roses” once again for the Royal Exchange with their wild and magnificent Christmas production of GYPSY

4.5 out of 5 stars

From GUYS AND DOLLS and SWEET CHARITY to THE PRODUCERS, it’s fair to say that Royal Exchange Theatre has a bit of a reputation for redefining Broadway musicals. This year, it looks like “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” once again for the Manchester venue with their wild and magnificent Christmas production of GYPSY.

Based on the memoirs of 1950s striptease artist Gypsy Rose Lee, GYPSY tells the story of Momma Rose (Ria Jones), a pushy, plucky and determined showbiz mother who pushes her two young daughters into the entertainment industry instead of at school.

After years in the business, younger daughter June (Melissa Lowe) quits and elopes, leaving Rose searching for work for her other, less talented daughter, Louise (Melissa James). The only offer is at a burlesque house, but Louise takes to it and transforms herself into the popular Gypsy Rose Lee. But as Louise gains notoriety, she grows tired of her mother’s influence and Rose’s unrequited dreams of her own stardom – and her personal demons – begin to surface.

Melissa James as Louise in GYPSY

Melissa James as Louise in GYPSY at Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester. Photo Credit: Johan Persson

Those familiar with the Broadway classic will understand that GYPSY is a somewhat difficult show to put on ‘in-the-round’ yet Director Jo Davies does a fantastic job of reimagining this classic musical for the vivid space. Using every trick at her disposal including a revolving stage, clever choreography (the sequence in which the children grow into adults is particularly impressive) and even aerial acrobatics, Davies brings to life the grime, graft and glamour of show business before your very eyes.

Jule Styne and Stephen Sondheim’s iconic score is played with gusto by the eight-strong orchestra under the guidance of Musical Supervisor Joel Fram, who deliver the vaudeville numbers like TOGETHER (WHEREVER WE GO) and MR. GOLDSTONE, I LOVE YOU as well as the brassier, full-on Broadway numbers like EVERYTHING’S COMING UP ROSES and LET ME ENTERTAIN YOU with energy and enthusiasm.

On stage, Ria Jones is simply a revelation as Momma Rose, the woman of deep, desperate yearnings who lives vicariously through her daughters. She’s perfectly pushy and plucky with her daughters yet surprisingly soft and wheedling with her faithful beau Herbie. Her duet of SMALL WORLD number is exquisitely funny, as is her performance of YOU’LL NEVER GET AWAY FROM ME. But the real showstopper is ROSE’S TURN, which is performed with such passion and power that Jones is breathless at the end of it.

Melissa James as Louise in GYPSY.

Melissa James as Louise in GYPSY at Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester. Photo Credit: Johan Persson

Yet, this production of GYPSY is far from a one-woman show. Melissa James is equally superb as Rose’s damaged daughter Louise, delivering a beautiful, fragile and understated performance which stays with you long after you’ve left the theatre.

Melissa Lowe as June and Dale Rapley as Herbie also deserve a mention for their excellent performances. In fact, this show has been cast in strength throughout, from the fabulous children in act one to the hilarious performances from Suzie Chard, Kate O’Donnell and Rebecca Thornhill as the trio of strippers in act two.

The only real criticism is the imposing light structure which stays on stage throughout, occasionally hindering your view as it revolves around the stage, moving from scene to scene.

But on the whole, Royal Exchange once again pull it out of the bag with GYPSY, bringing a bit of Broadway back to Manchester with this witty and wonderful production.

GYPSY runs at Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester until 25 January 2020.