Date 21st April 2023
Society South Manchester AOS
Venue Z Arts
Type of Production Musical
Director Kevin Proctor
Musical Director Steven Mercer-Murray
Choreographer Kevin Proctor
Written By Arthur Laurents Music-Jule Styne Lyrics-Steven Sondheim


Author: Liz Hume-Dawson

South Manchester take on the kingpin of Broadway - the Sondheim/Styne/Laurents Gypsy - the musical based on the memoirs of queen of burlesque Gypsy Rose Lee.

Walking into the theatre the band is raised at the back on the stage in full view at all times to the audience. Led skilfully by Musical Director Steven Mercer-Murray. The fourteen piece band didn’t put a foot wrong – splendid!

Black front flats with gold architrave and draped curtains were in situ and various scenes were then brought on by cast and crew. Some quick-change scenes but enough people were used to keep this moving along - The Vaudeville Theatre backstage, The Chinese Restaurant, Office, Train Station, the Burlesque House and even the desert to name a few. Trucks, furniture and the masses of props not to mention the most adorable looking cow that housed two humans. Stage Manager Caroline Marriott with help from Lucy Strong and Sue Ellis.

Lighting and Sound all added to the experience. Lighting by Chris Osborn and Sound by John Ormarod. Costumes all looked in keeping with the era as did hair.

This cast of over thirty including a dog for extra cuteness Frankie took on the role of Chowsie. Perfectly.  Kevin Proctor is the Director and Choreographer much like Jerome Robbins did in 1959 and it must be said that it was evident the love and respect that he must have for this show. The routines have to be the same and make them look tired while bringing the comedy out as they are performed to different songs is a skill. The Youth Ensemble (in no particular order) as Balloon girl, Clown, Sailor, Ballerina, Clarinet boy were Margaret Abram, Emma Ballentyne, Edie Redfern, Harry Valentine and Jasmine Valentine all played their part as did Eden Selway-Hartington as Baby June and Daisy Valentine as Baby Louise. The show was well cast and a not a weak link with good accents, too many to mention but highlighting a few: Tulsa was played by Kieron Hatton, L.A/ Cochon/Weber by Tom Farnworth,  Yonkers/Phil by Alex Re and Angie Joseph Butchers, played Louise’s Newsboys and other parts. Great support.

How to make the most of a small part - Juliet Bowers-Smith as Miss Cratchit - her walk the full length of the front of the stage at her pace with clicking heels to answer the candlestick telephone, not once but twice was hilarious and face full of expression on Mr Grantzigers’ decision, we got her character all in one. Bravo!!.

Now to the burlesque dancers - Rebekah Davies as the slightly drunk Electra certainly had a gimmick and Laura Aremia as Mazeppa with her gimmick, a trumpet who gave her all and we loved it and Tessie played by Steph Niland who dazzled with her butterfly gimmick. Well done “ladies” what a highlight!.

Rob Haslam was Herbie the long-suffering partner of Rose. Covering for her, being there for her until she squeezes every last ounce out of him and he can stand it no more. Played with sensitivity of the character. Job done!

Louise played by Olivia O’Connor. Wow! did we watch her grow in character. Kept in the background and then pushed to the front Louise goes on a real journey and we were with her all the way thanks to Olivia. Loved “Little Lamb” amongst others. Fabulous performance!.

And to Sarah Clarke playing the title role of Rose, at first I wondered by her photo in the programme if she was too young to play such a mammoth part. That was soon put to bed. Rose is the archetypal stage mother - domineering and taking no prisoners but as an audience we cannot hate her - it needs to be played with a passion. Yes, the passion is misplaced but Sarah hits the right note in more ways than one. Her face at times almost contorted to reveal her emotions not afraid to get up close and personal. Entering through the audience with a bang and hardly stopping to draw breath – although if she is quiet, be afraid! No one can keep up with Rose and she spits her family, friends and dancers out in her whirlwind manner. Almost losing her daughter Louise too in the process. Her “Rose’s Turn” is actually quite sad. Louise sees what she could have been. It was an immense number and I for one was exhausted watching. There are not enough superlatives to describe this performance and I am sure a lot of actors can only dream of putting in a performance like that. Standing ovation deserved!

South Manchester must once again be proud of cast and crew.

Thank you for the invitation and hospitality from Matthew and I

Liz Hume-Dawson

D5 Rep for D1