Review: Gypsy, Buxton International Festival

Joanna Riding makes my first trip to Buxton Opera House well worth the while in a superlative take on iconic musical Gypsy

“I’ll be there somehow”

After Imelda Staunton’s blistering performance (even if it dates back 7 years now), a cautionary note sounds in my head when a new production of Gypsy is announced. But being the way I am, it is easily silenced with the reveal of someone amazing taking on the role of Mama Rose. And so as Buxton Opera House and Buxton International Festival made the wise choice to anoint the award-winning Joanna Riding, it was inevitable that I would be making the trip to Derbyshire. 

And I’m glad I did as Paul Kerryson’s production was no disappointment at all, and Riding rises to the challenge of this iconic role with real class. In some ways it is a shame that the brevity of the run means she’s only on for eight performances but in others, there’s something magical about being part of a privileged few to have witnessed her equally barn-storming and heart-breaking take on this stage-mom-to-end-all-stage moms.

Through the gifts of Arthur Laurents’ book, Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics and the sheer drama of Jule Styne’s score which rightly gives her all the best numbers, it is easy to see why this is considered one of the premier roles in the dramatic canon (regardless of genre or gender). And as such, the role lends itself to different interpretations. Riding opts for a snowballing sense of mania that whips this Rose into her eventual disturbing frenzy but ensures there’s an emotional connection to her throughout.

And her awe-inspiring vocal talents are deployed just perfectly, allowing so much character to bleed through every line-reading, so much more complex than just any simple belting. Around her, Monique Young nails Louise’s transition into Gypsy Rose Lee and beyond her mother’s psychological grasp, David Leonard does well as the faithful-to-a-point Herbie and Tiffany Graves (how is she not a proper star?!!) delivers another stellar supporting turn as one third of ‘You Gotta Get A Gimmick’.

Ben Atkinson directs his 13-piece orchestra with skill around this iconic score, Phil R Daniels’ set and Charles Cusick Smith’s costumes set a wonderful design aesthetic and the whole thing just comes off beautifully. 

Running time: 3 hours (with interval)
Photos: Genevieve Girling
Gypsy is booking at Buxton Opera House until 24th July

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