The Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester – until 25 January 2020
Reviewed by Joseph Everton
After years of being the second best sister, craving her mother’s attention, Louise, or Gypsy Rose Lee, burst onto American stages, emerging from the shadows to become a legendary performer in Burlesque. Jo Davies’ production, which tells the story of Louise’s childhood, brings together a strong cast, some clever staging and dazzling lighting by Colin Grenfell.
Reminiscent of American reality TV dross, Dance Moms, Rose (Ria Jones) is the ultimate pushy parent. Utterly determined for her favourite daughter June to achieve fame, Rose drags the family across the country, performing the same routine, with June thrust to the fore, in an attempt to make a life for her daughters that she was never able to obtain. Rose is a steely, unrelenting character who is sometimes difficult to like. However, Ria Jones’ Rose is more warm than some of her predecessors with much made of of the bond between her daughters and her. She is also adored by Herbie (Dale Rapley), who overlooks her personality flaws in a patient wait for the chance to marry her.
Melissa James as Louise is almost a figure of fun. Overshadowed by her sister’s talent, often forced to play one half of a cow, her character and charisma is hidden behind a meek yet likeable exterior, and a baggy and uninspiring wardrobe. Aside from a delicate performance of Little Lamb, James did a wonderful job of being thoroughly a underwhelming understudy to her sister. However, when she burst into life, finding a release in Burlesque, she was breathtaking.
Ria Jones earned rapturous applause for her passionate performance of Rose’s Turn which brought an excellent show to a close. The Royal Exchange seemed the perfect venue for a show that was a treat for the eyes and the ears. It is a must see