We've had to wait more than 40 years for Gypsy to return to the West End since the first (and only time) it has previously been seen there. That was back in 1973 in a production that starred Angela Lansbury and subsequently went to Broadway for the show's first major revival there after it's original 1959 Broadway premiere; it has had three subsequent major revivals there since, most recently in 2008 (when Patti LuPone gave a barnstorming performance as Momma Rose).
So what has become a standard of the Broadway stage over the last half century or so has been all but neglected over here. But it's long delay in returning has been worth the wait; it has meant that Sondheim (its sole surviving original creator, who wrote the lyrics to Jule Styne's music and Arthur Laurents' book) has lined up his own choice to take the lead role, suggesting it to Imelda Staunton after her fine, fierce performance as Mrs Lovett in Sweeney Todd that transferred from Chichester to the West End two years ago.
She scores an even bigger triumph here in a production that also originated at Chichester last autumn. Mrs Lovett in Sweeney Todd is a riotous comic creation, subversive and immensely practical: she'll do anything to get (and keep) her man, even if that means being complicit in his killing spree on strangers - and then comes up with the idea of using the flesh generated for different flavours of her fabled pies. But Momma Rose is of an altogether different, even darker and more realistic hue; she's a woman of deep, desperate yearnings - if she can't be famous, she'll live vicariously through her daughters. And even if it means that people keep abandoning her - including the younger of her daughters and three previous husbands - she's a determined survivor.
It's a frightening - and at times frightful - portrait of possessiveness and personal obsession, and Staunton herself possesses it entirely. At the risk of hyperbole, it's one of the greatest performances I've ever seen on any stage, ever, in any role. At once ferocious yet deeply moving, she brings an absolutely incredible array of colours to the role, and punches the songs to the rafters, too - especially 'Everything's Coming Up Roses' (which it doesn't really, ever, for Rose), and her extraordinary 'Rose's Turn', that respectively end each act.
But the joyful thing about Jonathan Kent's pitch-perfect period production is that every detail of it is right, from the set - neatly adapted by designer Anthony Ward to fold into and reflect the Savoy's own interior - to Stephen Mear's delightful choreography. There's great support in the orchestra pit under the musical direction of Nicholas Skilbeck, to deliver the musical theatre's greatest-ever overture as a stand-alone masterpiece of its own.
And neither is the show a one-woman show. It has been cast in strength throughout, including beautiful, fragile performances from Lara Pulver and Gemma Sutton as Rose's damaged daughters, Peter Davison as her devoted beau Herbie, and the best trio of strippers in Julie Legrand, Louise Gold and Anita Louise Combe I think I've ever seen.
This is an absolutely unmissable triumph.
"Kent’s revival offers the unrepeatable chance to witness Imelda Staunton give one of the performances of her career."
Dominic Cavendish for The Telegraph
"They might as well start carving Staunton’s name on all the awards statuettes now."
Fiona Mountford for The Evening Standard
External links to full reviews from popular press