Gypsy, the musical based on the life of burlesque striptease artist Gypsy Rose Lee and her mother Rose, is rightly considered one of the greatest musicals of all time. It has it all - a terrific score from Stephen Sondheim and, in Gypsy's mother Rose, one of the most complicated and fascinating characters possible. And this revival at Savoy Theatre, a transfer from Chichester Festival, is one of the finest productions you will ever see of this great show.
Rose (Imelda Staunton) is a driven woman. She wants one thing - unrivalled success and critical acclaim for the apple of her eye, her perfectly blonde, blue-eyed and bubbly daughter June (Gemma Sutton). Rose is adamant June will get the glory and she drags her increasingly resentful daughter across America to perform on every stage possible in her desperate attempts to make this happen.
Everything is sacrificed to this dream, including three marriages and the happiness of her second daughter, Louise (Lara Pulver), who obeys her mother's every wish in the vain hope that one day her mother will love her as much as she loves June.
At the heart of this production is one of the most staggering performances you will probably ever see. If there's a better performance on the London stage right now than Imelda Staunton's, I haven't seen it. And I doubt there is one frankly as Imelda's portrayal of the ultimate show-business mother is flawless.
Every element of her performance is stunning. Imelda seems to grip Rose's complexity with ease. Her motivations remain complex, unclear even to herself, and she can be vulnerable one second, emotionally manipulative the next. And that voice - what a voice!
Imelda is extraordinary, yes, but there are great performances throughout this production. Lara Pulver was, for me, a revelation. Her voice was beautiful, with a wonderful range, and her portrayal of the long-suffering Louise finding the strength to stand up to her tyrannical mother was pitch-perfect. And Peter Davison is the perfect foil for Rose as the faithful Herbie - humbled, overwhelmed and eventually broken.
The wider cast is excellent too, from Gemma Sutton as the mithered and frustrated June, to the chorus and their wide range of parts from showgirls to backing dancers, to the young kids who play Rose's family in their youth.
Direction comes from Jonathan Kent (working again with Imelda Staunton following Good People at Hampstead Theatre and the West End last year) and the pacing is perfect, with inventive stage design from Anthony Ward used to convey the nomadic lives that Rose forces on to her family as she investigates every option, banging on every closed door, to make her daughters famous.
It's hard to go wrong with Sondheim - and all the classics are here from the mighty Everything's Coming Up Roses to the glorious Let Me Entertain You - but these are performed fantastically well and there's so much variety in emotion, in delivery, across the score that you really feel as if you're on a rollercoaster.
You've Got to Get a Gimmick is hilarious, the showgirls mining the humour in that song for all it's worth, whereas Louise's Little Lamb is tender and heart-breaking. And it all builds to Rose's Turn, a tour de force performance where finally, FINALLY, Rose gets the stage to herself.
The tears in the eyes of just about every member of the audience at the end were testament to the emotional power in this production. Rose's final stand, her rage against the dying of the spotlight and the cruelty of show-business, just rocked all of us to the core.
It would be a travesty if Gypsy did not sweep the board come awards season. Tickets are expensive though. Seats at the back of the stalls are £70 and even at that price, my view was restricted by the people in the rows in front of me.
Nevertheless if you can go, I absolutely encourage you to do so as Gypsy may well be the best show in town. Stunning, flawless and it packs an enormous emotional punch.
Savoy Theatre, London to November 28, 2015
1.Imelda Staunton (Momma Rose) with members of the Gypsy company Photo Johan Persson
2.Imelda Staunton (Momma Rose) in Gypsy Photo Johan Persson
3.Imelda Staunton (Momma Rose) with members of the Gypsy company Photo Johan Persson
4.Lara Pulver (Louise) in Gypsy Photo Johan Persson