Æ Preview – Hot Tempo Take On Gypsy

Feb 13 2011 | By More

Tempo strip it back for musical based on life of  burlesque star Gypsy Rose Lee

Burlesque is at the heart of the show. Mel Smith as a Minsky Show Girl. Photo credit: Darren and Donald Tainsh

By Thom  Dibdin

Gypsy Rose Lee would have turned one hundred this year, which makes it an apposite one for Edinburgh-based amateurs: Tempo Musical Company, to take on the highly acclaimed 1959 musical, Gypsy, loosely based on the burlesque stripper’s autobiography Gypsy, A Memoir.

The show, with music by Julie Styne, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by Arthur Laurents, has all the elements which make it look like a natural one for an amateur company to perform. Indeed, it is regarded as one of the greatest American musicals.

The score is packed with cleverly worded big musical numbers such as Small World, Everything’s Coming Up Roses, You Gotta Have A Gimmick and Let Me Entertain You, there’s bucket loads of comedy – tempered with tears – and there are plenty of different dance styles. Not to mention that it is backed up with the saucy world of burlesque.

Alexa Brown as Louise with Norma Kinnear as Rose. Photo credit: Darren and Donald Tainsh

It’s all been something of an eye-opener for Tempo first-timer Alexa Brown who is taking on the role of Louise, as the young Gypsy Rose Lee is known at the start of the show. There has been no time for niceties as Alexa, who is also a newcomer to  Edinburgh, has been thrown in at the deep end.

Explaining how she’s been getting into the role, she says: “There’s nothing quite like being manhandled into an imaginary bed with four strangers, or debating the various underwear options for the strip costume, or hurling a spring roll at someone to speed up the bonding process. Small talk suddenly seems a bit unnecessary!”

The show is steeped in the history of variety and vaudeville, as it follows Louise’s overambitious and domineering mother Rose (Norma Kinnear), who was described as ‘one of the one of the few truly complex characters in the American musical’ at the show’s 1974 revival.

Rose is the original pushy stage mother: determined that her eldest child, Baby June (Mairi Beaver), will become a star – no matter what – on the vaudeville circuit. When June elopes with one of the boys from the act, Rose turns her attention on Louise and tries to get her to take over from her sister. But vaudeville, it seems, is dead and the only place they can get a spot is in a burlesque bar, where Louise succeeds in transforming herself from a shy young girl into the classy stripper who went on to call herself  Gypsy Rose Lee.

It seems a natural production for Tempo producer Kenny Kinnear to take on, as he recalls of his childhood: “I remember being taken to the Palladium weekly by my father and seeing hundreds of acts treading the boards – in a way that today’s X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent participants could never sustain. Gypsy brings back some of those fond memories.”

Alexa Brown as Gypsy. Photo credit: Darren and Donald Tainsh

However, for all its risqué action and burlesque acts of varying styles – including a panto cow called Caroline – there are certain tricky details which mean that it is rarely staged on the amateur circuit.

Kinnear explains: “Gypsy has certainly been a long-time favourite of ours but it’s not a big company-type show. It spans a long time so you have youngsters who become older as the years go on. You therefore need a very special type of cast.”

Director Gabrielle Pavone, who saw the Tony Award-winning Broadway revival of  2004, adds: “There are many reasons I love Gypsy: the outstanding musical score, Sondheim’s tremendous lyrics and Arthur Laurents’ brilliant dialogue. I also love that each writer compliments one another while staying true to the story itself, without the ‘lets burst into song’ feeling, typical of some musicals.”

As the show has been revived over the years, different directors have changed it slightly to reflect the times it has been performed in. The main question is whether Rose and Louise can become reconciled. And it remains to be seen how Pavone will call it.

Gypsy plays at the Church Hill Theatre, Edinburgh, Mon 14 – Sat 19 February 2011, 7.30pm (Sat 2.30pm and7.30pm). Tickets £10-£15 from the Tempo Website


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