Venue: Star Theatres, 145 Sir Donald Bradman Drive, Hilton
Season: 8pm nightly Wed to Sat to Sat 2nd and 2pm Sat 26th December
Duration: 3hrs 10min incl interval
Tickets: adult $40/conc $30
Bookings: Dramatix https://www.dramatix.com.au/event/show/748
Based on her 1957 autobiography, Gypsy: A Memoir, this is the famous striptease artist Gypsy Rose Lee's story of her life from childhood to stardom but, more so, this musical version is the story of the world's worst stage mother, Rose Hovick. She dragged her two daughters, June and Louise, across the United States, trying to make it big in Vaudeville, but it was the 1920s and Vaudeville was already dying.
Rose built a child act around Baby June, pushing the less talented Louise into the background. She continually pretended that the girls were much younger than they were in order to keep the child act going. June eloped at the age of fifteen and changed her surname to Havoc, first competing in lucrative dance competitions and then having a career as a minor film actress.
Rose then turned her attention to Louise, whose name was actually Rose Louise Hovick, but who was always known by her middle name. She tried to make Louise into a carbon copy of June, dressing her in a blonde wig and continuing with the same routine. As Vaudeville collapsed and it became obvious to everybody but Rose that the act was a dud, and that Louise was never going to be like June, they found themselves slipping down from the Vaudeville circuit into Burlesque theatres.
It was then that Rose, in desperation to still make her daughter a star, through whom she could live vicariously and in whose limelight she could bask, pushed Louise into stripping. As she became a star Louise pushed her mother out of her life. For the rest of her life Rose constantly placed demands on June and Louise for money.
Co-directed by Vince Fusco and Joshua Penley, who also plays Uncle Jocko, this production is filled with great performances. Musical Director, Jonathon Bligh, has assembled a fine large orchestra that, aside from some very noticeable intonation problems in the brass section, do a sterling job. Cherie Hill's choreography add plenty of excitement to the work as well.
April Stuart is sensational as the insensitive, overbearing egomaniac, Mamma Rose. She creates a bombastic horror of a mother whose children seem to mean nothing more to her than a couple of automatons that she can show off, to her own glory. There is little to like in the attention seeking Mamma Rose, but so much to like in Stuart's commanding performance.
Jessica Voivenel plays Louise, at first as a shy and ignored young girl, then attempting to live up to her mother's unrealistic expectations after June escapes. She is expected to suddenly take on the star role, for which she is ill-prepared and inadequate, but she is still the general dogsbody, sewing costumes and organising the other girls in the troupe. Next we see that transition as Louise is thrust into stripping and becomes Gypsy, discovering her inner strength and self-confidence and throwing off the shackles of her mother's ambition. Voivenel superbly covers all of these stages in Gypsy's growth in a beautifully measured performance.
June is played by Chloe Truehl, giving a bright and bubbly reading to the role of the rather spoiled sister, the apple of Rose's eye. Truehl puts lots of energy into her performance as June, belting out her songs and throwing herself into her dancing. There are some nice moments as she grows older and understands how her mother has been treating Louise and how she feels about being the neglected child.
Lindsay Dunn is Herbie, who is attracted to Rose and whom she convinces to become the agent for Baby June's act. He stays on until the bitter end, finally walking away when Rose pushes Louise into stripping, at which time he accepts that Rose is not going to change and that she is never going to give up show business to marry him. Dunn brings a nice warmth and gentility to the role entirely believable as the man who looked after everybody else at his own expense and ended up with nothing.
When they first perform in a Burlesque theatre they meet the three outrageous strippers, Tessie Tura, Mazeppa and Electra, played respectively by Amy Hutchinson, Nicole Christopoulos and Vanessa Shirley. These three provide a lot of humour through their petty squabbling and rivalry and bring the house down when they introduce themselves and explain their respective gimmicks in song.
There is much more great work from the rest of the cast and chorus, and some fine solo tap dancing from Todd Emmett as June's future husband, Tulsa. Chelsea McGinnes, and Sarah Baber, as Baby June and Baby Louise, are delightful, as are the members of the child ensemble.
Unfortunately the performers were subjected to sound problems. There was too many instances of microphones being turned on late, at one point we could hear a voice from backstage when the operator forgot to turn one off, Louise was left un-amplified for one number, there were several loud squawks in the second act, and levels were not always high enough, losing voices below the orchestra.
In the first act there was the occasional fall in energy levels and lack of pace, although it was better in second act, but all of the set changes took too long, causing loss of momentum. Jenny Baber's great costumes, the bright sets, and good lighting from Stephen Saba complemented the performances and the end result is a production that, with some improvement on the technical side, is a real winner.
You have several more chances to see this high energy and captivating production but it closes next Saturday, so do not leave it too late to book.
Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Arts Editor, Glam Adelaide.