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REVIEW - Gypsy The Musical In Concert was a special evening celebrating theatre at its finest!


On Sunday, we went to the Manchester Opera House to see a wonderful performance as Gypsy The Musical took centre stage for one night only. Read what our reviewer Karen Ryder had to say about Hope Mill Theatre's fundraising concert...

In my world, a night at the theatre is always something special, but every so often it is sprinkled with a little bit of extra magic, something that epitomises all that theatre is about, and tonight was one of those nights.  Hope Mill Theatre have produced a one night only experience in order to raise essential funds for their Hope For The Future Campaign to secure their wonderful venue, their work, the livelihoods of many in the arts, not to mention continuing to produce top notch work for us adoring fans to enjoy.  Tonight, all the stars aligned for what can only be described as a sensational performance of Gypsy.  They brought the whole show together in about 6 days and this is kudos to the love and respect everyone feels towards their directors William Whelton and Joseph Houston that this was at all possible.  It was also a great thing to experience our theatres supporting each other, so a huge shout out to ATG and the Manchester Opera House team who hosted this event without ever taking any of the spotlight off Hope Mill.

tells the story of the original momager, mamma Rose, whose brings out all the stops to make her children stars.  But when her favourite child Baby June runs off, she is left with Lousie who she has never considered to have any talent.  Still, the show must go on right, and so Rose reinvents the stale act around Louise until one day they find themselves in a Burlesque show.  As one of the burlesque acts is arrested, Louise offers to stand in as the money is good.  And that, folks, is how Gypsy Rose Lee was born.  Gypsy finds she has a natural born talent for her stripping technique of less is more and becomes the kind of star that Rose had always dreamed one of her children, and perhaps even she would be.  But once Gypsy has made it, where does that leave Rose?  What is her purpose then?  She is left facing some tough demons as to why she did what she did, but maybe, just maybe, there is hope for her yet…

This ‘Musical In Concert’ turned out to be a full production!  Something that I was not expecting, and it makes the mind boggle even more as to how this whole thing was pulled off in such a short time.  The fabulous orchestra were nestled onto the stage, split down the middle, with a central ‘stage door’ arch behind them.  Several iconic spotlight style lamps flood the stage as dry ice smoked around, creating a glorious glow, and showbiz heaven.  Curtains draped across the sides and the back of the stage, which were projected onto with maps and locations to keep track of Mamma Rose’s circuit tours.  The whole vibe was stylish and utterly fabulous.  The orchestra struck up the opening notes of that infamous overture and there was a collective intake of breath as magic resonated throughout the theatre.

We all knew we were in for a treat.  Then the children burst onto the stage with a fizz, pizazz, and razzamatazz that took us all by surprise for these singing, dancing mini’s were complete professionals!  Many were even from Hope Mills own performing arts school, which gives us even more proof that this evening is worth every penny!  Halle Brady as Baby June and Amelia Munshi as Baby Louise were flawless, high kicking, doing splits, and both nailing their respective characters with ease. 

As for the rest of the cast – I mean wow!  It was explained to us at the end of the performance that a meeting with the late, great, Paul O’ Grady had him announcing that he would love to see Jodie Prenger play Rose in Gypsy, and what an outstanding call that was!  I mean, if ever anyone was born to play a role!  I simply am lost for words as to how incredible she was.  Prenger absolutely embodied the role whilst equally making it entirely her own, and the result was phenomenal.  She played Rose with a subtle charisma, charm, and vulnerability that I have never seen before, and it took the character to a whole new level.  I fully understood Rose’s drive, her persistence, and how despite her pushy tunnel vision, why those in her life stood it for as long as they did.   Rose sings “I had a dream..” in musical snippets throughout, but tonight, I fully understood the intricacies of Rose’s bigger dream because of Prenger’s interpretation – the dreams Rose had for herself that she pushed aside when she had children.  And dare I say, for the first time ever, I even felt sympathy for Rose, because I understood that in her eyes, she was only ever doing the best for everyone, and at some point, her best always made them leave her. 

Her performance was full of passion and when she sang Rose’s turn – I mean, come on!  The place erupted and everyone jumped to their feet.  A standing ovation mid show is a rare thing.  I have only witnessed it twice before, so it is a small club to be in, and tonight Jodie Prenger became it’s newest and well deserving member.  I’m aware I’m gushing, but sometimes, you’ve just gotta gush it out!  Tom Lister as Herbie also brought a new side out of this character which was fantastic to see.  He played Herbie as less of a push over than I have previously seen and more as an equal comrade, so in turn this changed the dynamic of his relationship with Rose.  Therefore, when he did finally leave her, the stakes were so much higher and the emotion was much more raw.  He actual broke my heart and I was entirely hooked into his every word.  His scenes with Jodie Prenger were so natural and full of that extra special something, and his vocals were spot on.

Grace Mouat
as Louise wowed us with her transformation of the quite shy girl who lived in the shadows, to this confident and strong woman.  Every nuance from her voice, facial expressions, vocal delivery, right down to the way she would extend her arms during a dance scene had progression as she evolved Louise into the world’s biggest star!  There was no jolting big bang moment here.  Instead, she expertly accomplished the revolution so slickly that it realistically crept up on us in the most marvellous way.  Her vocals were crystal clear and it is no wonder she has an army of fans that have stayed with her from her time in ‘Six’ and ‘& Juliet’May Tether as June gave us a fabulously funny performance, showing us the flip sides of the showbiz performer Baby June who is all jazz hands, teeth and squeaky smiles, verses the frustrated and ignored real person behind it all.  Her brilliant comic timing meant every possible moment landed for an appreciative audience, and we lapped it up.

Divina De Campo, Harriet Thorpe, and Liz Fletcher
brought the house down as the tantalising trio of strippers Miss Mazeppa, Tessie Tura and Electra.  Each one graced the stage to applause as the anticipation for one of musical theatres favourite numbers inched closer.  I am of course talking about ‘You gotta have a gimmick,’ which incidentally was famously performed at The Royal Variety Performance in 2001 by the aforementioned Paul O’ Grady, alongside his wonderful pals Cilla Black and Barbara Windsor.  Our trio tonight did the showbiz legends in the sky so proud.  It was everything you’d want it to be, and then some.  Full of sass, attitude, confidence, powerful and striking vocals, and jam packed with rip roaring comedy, they made this number the stand out moment in the show that it is meant to be.  It comes with so much expectation attached to it, but all three took that expectation, gave it their own unique stamp, and served it back to us with a side dish of kaboom!  Idriss Kargbo as Tulsa was so light on his feet during his solo ‘All I Need Is The Girl,’ it was almost hypnotic to watch.  Peter Gunn as both Pop and Mr. Goldstone brought joy, comedy gold, and outstanding acting, as did Angela Lonsdale as Miss Cratchit.

I think the whole audience would agree that the only down side to this entire production was that it only gets one night.  I, for one, would grab tickets to watch this a second time…..and a third……and a……..well you get the idea as to how fabulous it was.  Usually when a show ends, many audience members rush out and do not stay to listen to the orchestra complete the evening, but tonight, not only did everyone stay, longing to soak in every moment of this special evening, they were still entirely enraptured and agog, the level of applause when the orchestra finished playing saying all that needed to be said.  Congratulations to Hope Mill Theatre and everyone involved for a truly wonderful evening.  Baby June started the evening by exclaiming “Let me entertain you.  Let me make you smile.”  Mission well and truly accomplished.  Thank you.    



Photo credits - Grant Archer

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