Television: Curtain Going Up On the 2015 Award-Winning London Production of Gypsy on PBS

Starring Imelda Staunton on THIRTEEN’s Great Performances Friday, November 11 at 9 p.m. on the PBS Arts Fall Festival

Jonathan Kent‘s award-winning production of the classic musical Gypsy – a record-breaking sellout during its acclaimed London run – comes to THIRTEEN‘s Great Performances, Friday, November 11 at 9 p.m. on PBS on the PBS Arts Fall Festival. (Check local listings.) Gypsy first appeared in 1959 on Broadway under the title Gypsy: A Musical Fable.

Great Performances: Gypsy

Rose (Imelda Staunton) in “Gypsy” Credit: ©2014 Johan Persson

The first London production to be seen for 40 years, the musical opened at England’s Chichester Festival Theatre before moving to the West End‘s Savoy Theatre. A London production had not been seen in the West End since 1973. This critically acclaimed West End production features Imelda Staunton as Rose (The role of Rose is often called the ‘King Lear’ of the musical theatre canon).

Great Performances: Gypsy

Herbie (Peter Davison) and Rose (Imelda Staunton) in “Gypsy” Credit: ©2014 Johan Persson

Following a run at the Chichester Festival Theatre, which won the Critics’ Choice Theatre Award for Best Musical in 2014, a West End revival of Gypsy opened at the Savoy Theatre on April 15, 2015, in a limited run through November 28. Directed by Jonathan Kent with choreography by Stephen Mear and set and costume design by Anthony Ward, the production starred Staunton as Rose, Peter Davison as Herbie, Lara Pulver as Louise, Gemma Sutton as June, Anita Louise Combe as Tessie Tura, Louise Gold as Mazzeppa and Julie Legrand as Electra. The London production was nominated for eight Laurence Olivier Awards at the 2016 ceremony, winning four, including Best Actress in a Musical (Staunton) and Best Musical Revival, the most awards won by a single production in that year

Great Performances: Gypsy

Louise (Lara Pulver) in “Gypsy” Credit: ©2014 Johan Persson

Gypsy is considered by many to be one of Broadway’s all-time triumphs. It tells the story of ambitious showbiz mother Rose, who treks across the country with her daughters Baby June and Louise in search of success with their homespun vaudeville act. As times change, Rose is forced to accept the demise of vaudeville and the rise of burlesque, as well as her daughters’ quest for autonomy.

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Baby June (Isla Huggins-Barr) in “Gypsy” Credit: ©2014 Johan Persson

With a book by Arthur Laurents, music by Jule Styne and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, the show was suggested by the memoirs of Gypsy Rose Lee. The musical was initially a project of producer David Merrick and actress Ethel Merman (who starred as the original Rose). Merrick had read a chapter of Lee’s memoirs in Harper’s Magazine and approached Lee to obtain the rights. Jerome Robbins was interested, and wanted Leland Hayward as co-producer; (Merman also wanted Hayward to produce her next show.) Merrick and Hayward approached Laurents to write the book. As he relates, Laurents initially was not interested until he saw that the story was one of parents living their children’s lives. Composers Irving Berlin and Cole Porter declined the project. Finally, Robbins asked Stephen Sondheim, who agreed to do it. Sondheim had previously worked with Robbins and Laurents on the musical West Side Story. However, Merman did not want an unknown composer, and wanted Jule Styne to write the music. Although Sondheim initially refused to write only the lyrics, he was persuaded by Oscar Hammerstein to accept the job.

Great Performances: Gypsy

Mazeppa (Louise Gold) in “Gypsy” Credit: ©2014 Johan Persson

The score features songs that have since become show standards, and helped launch the career of Sondheim. “Everything’s Coming Up Roses,” “Some People,” “Let Me Entertain You,” “Together, Wherever We Go” and of course “Rose’s Turn” are among the musical highlights.

Great Performances: Gypsy

Electra (Julie Legrand) in “Gypsy” Credit: ©2014 Johan Persson

The original Broadway production opened on May 21, 1959 at The Broadway Theatre, transferred to the Imperial Theatre, and closed on March 25, 1961 after 702 performances and two previews, with Merman starring as Rose, Jack Klugman as Herbie and Sandra Church as Louise. Scenic and Lighting design were by Jo Mielziner and costumes were by Raoul Pène Du Bois. The orchestrations, including an overture, were supplied by Sid Ramin and Robert Ginzler. The original production received eight Tony Award nominations, including Best Musical, Best Actress in a Musical, Best Featured Actor in a Musical, Best Featured Actress in a Musical, Best Scenic Design, Best Costume Design and Best Direction of a Musical, but failed to win any.

Great Performances: Gypsy

Tessie Tura (Anita-Louise Combe) in “Gypsy” Credit: ©2014 Johan Persson

Since Gypsy‘s premiere in 1959, Broadway has enjoyed four revivals– with Rose being played by Angela Lansbury (1974, Lansbury won the 1975 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical for her performance), Tyne Daly (1989, Daly won the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical for her performance), Bernadette Peters (2003), and Patti LuPone (2008, who won the Tony and Drama Desk Awards for the role)– all of which have provided her unique take on the musical and its characters. Much of the show rests on the central casting of Rose, and each actress who took on the challenge has brought something very different to the role. The show continues to be produced by regional theatre companies around the whole of the USA.

Great Performances: Gypsy

Rose (Imelda Staunton), and Newsboys (Roger Dipper, Kieron Jae, Dan Burton, Luke Street, Damien Poole) in “Gypsy” Credit: ©2014 Johan Persson

Critics were unanimous in their praise of Staunton and the production. “Every facet of the character is caught by Imelda Staunton who gives one of the greatest performances I’ve ever seen in musical theatre,” raved The Guardian. And The Times enthused, “If you like musical theatre, I urge you to see this stunning revival of one of the greatest Broadway musicals. If you don’t like musical theatre, see it anyway.”

Great Performances: Gypsy

Rose (Imelda Staunton) in “Gypsy” Credit: ©2014 Johan Persson

The London production was honored with five Olivier Awards, including Best Musical Revival, Best Actress in a Musical (Staunton), Best Actress in a Supporting Role in a Musical (Pulver).

Imelda Staunton, OBE, is an Academy Award-nominated English actress best known for her performances in the films “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” (as Dolores Umbridge) and “Vera Drake.” For the latter, she drew widespread critical acclaim, earning a number of awards including the BAFTA and Venice Film Festival Awards.

Great Performances: Gypsy

Tessie Tura (Anita-Louise Combe), Electra (Julie Legrand), Louise (Lara Pulver) in “Gypsy” Credit: ©2014 Johan Persson

She has twice before received an Olivier Award for roles in two 1985 productions: “A Chorus of Disapproval” and “The Corn Is Green” and for the 1991 “Into the Woods.” Films include “Peter’s Friends” (1992), “Much Ado About Nothing” (1993), “Sense and Sensibility” (1995), “Twelfth Night” (1996), “Bright Young Things” (2003), “Shakespeare in Love” (2004) and “Freedom Writers” (2007).

Gypsy is part of the sixth annual PBS Arts Fall Festival, a ten-week series hosted this fall by Grammy and Tony Award-winning star Lin-Manuel Miranda. Starting October 21, the festival features a variety of legendary artists, dazzling musical performances and captivating dance works, beginning with “Hamilton’s America” from Great Performances, a look at the making of the hottest show on Broadway. The PBS Arts Fall Festival, which last year reached more than nine million viewers, is a cornerstone of the Friday primetime lineup, underscoring PBS’ ongoing commitment to give audiences the best seats in the house to watch arts performances on air and online. Most programs will be available online at http://video.pbs.org/ after their broadcast premiere.

The production was filmed by Emmy Award-winner Lonny Price for Ellen M. Krass Productions with Serpent Productions and Shout! Factory, in association with the BBC. For Great Performances, Bill O’Donnell is series producer; David Horn is the executive producer.

Great Performances is produced by THIRTEEN PRODUCTIONS LLC for WNET, one of America’s most prolific and respected public media providers. Throughout its more than 40 year history on public television, Great Performances has provided viewers across the country with an unparalleled showcase of the best in all genres of the performing arts, serving as America’s most prestigious and enduring broadcaster of cultural programming.

The Great Performances presentation is funded by the Irene Diamond Fund, the Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Arts Fund, The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation, The LuEsther T. Mertz Charitable Trust, Rosalind P. Walter, The Agnes Varis Trust, The Starr Foundation, the Kate W. Cassidy Foundation, Ellen and James S. Marcus, the Philip and Janice Levin Foundation, the Lenore Hecht Foundation, The Abra Prentice Foundation, Jody and John Arnhold, and PBS.

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