Gypsy (Chichester Festival Theatre, October/November 2014)

When I was very young I used to be taken into Brighton for a day at the seaside. One of the highlights, apart from the candy floss and the penny arcades, was to visit the small stripy tent belonging to the renowned fortune teller, Gypsy Rose Lee.

Little did I realise at the time, but my palm was being read by the great American Bawdyville entertainer who was the inspiration for one of the great American musicals – Gypsy – a show rightly receiving standing ovations at Chichester Festival Theatre this season night after night after night after night after night.

The story of Louise, June, and their overbearing mother Rose (superbly played by Imelda Marcos, best known for being married to the actor who plays Willie Carson in TV’s Downtown Abbey) is very exciting because it is just like The X Factor where pushy parents try to get everyone to love their performing children and pets.

Had I known the true identity of that palmist by the pier in Brighton all those years ago I would have asked her to take her clothes off instead of whipping out her crystal balls! A missed opportunity, alas, but this show at Chichester (directed by Jonathan Kent, who used to be Superman’s father) made me nostalgic for toffee apples and ghost trains and being told by Gypsy Rose Lee that I would never have a life.

Of course the memorable songs by Jule Styne and Stephen Sondheim are memorable enough, but here they have an extra zing to them, from Everything’s Coming Up Roses (which reminded me that I needed to spread some manure in the garden over the weekend), and the amusing You Gotta Get a Gimmick, sung by three elderly women, to the outstanding Rose’s Turn, originally sung by Kurt in the TV series Glee.

The whole evening was one of the most exciting I’ve ever had! First I bumped into Shaun Evans, who plays Morse on TV (he was probably there to support Kevin Lewis, who plays Herbie in the show); I thought it would be funny to try to communicate with him in Morse code, but he excused himself and answered his mobile phone, even though it wasn’t ringing. I then bumped into Richard E. Grant (best known for visiting hotels on TV) and started to recount some of my theatrical anecdotes (including the hilarious moment when all the lights went out in a production of Black Coffee starring Robert Powell, who played Jesus on TV) – I thought he would appreciate them as he seems to have a great sense of humour but he ran off, so I think he must have been trying to catch a train. I bumped into Lara Pulver too (who plays Louise in the show) but soon found my seat again and the show was allowed to continue.

The funny thing is when I went to see Gypsy Rose Lee all those years ago at Brighton she told me I would one day meet a tall dark stranger, and now I’ve met Richard E Grant, who is tall and dark and couldn’t be stranger.

For me the moral of the show is that if you ever go and visit a fortune teller (or sidekick, as they are sometimes called these days) then it’s probably wise to ask them if they have ever been a stripper. They won’t see that coming!

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