Rags, riches and faulty shoulder straps in a Broadway classic

THERE’S no such thing as an overnight sensation….as the girl who began her life as Rose Louise Hovick would have agreed.

As she and her precocious sister June hoofed their way across the Vaudeville theatres of 1920s America, there was no sign at all that a star would one day be born.

And it was only when June tired of her life as an all singing and dancing starlet and ran away with a chorus boy that Rose Louise found herself thrust into the spotlight.

But even then it was only a broken shoulder strap that saw her transformed into Gypsy Rose Lee, the girl added the tease into striptease and almost made Burlesque a respectable trade.

A star was born, at last, and a strange variation on the Cinderella story eventually made its way to the stage and movie screen as Gypsy, the classic Stephen Sondheim, Jule Styne and Arthur Laurents musical.

A hit for Broadway legend Ethel Merman on stage and then for Rosalind Russell in the cinema version, Gypsy now comes to Sheffield’s Lyceum in a new production from STOS Theatre Company that runs from November 13 to 17.

For STOS director Mark Harris this intimate slice of American vaudeville is a great contrast to the scale of last year’s hugely successful My Fair Lady, another very different take on the Cinderella story.

“I’m so proud of what I achieved last year and the company really did create something very special,” he says.

“But I wanted to do something very different next time and I think that’s exactly what Gypsy is, another legendary show but legendary for very different reasons.

“It is an incredible story about a girl who is a neglected child who becomes a star in the end – and people who don’t know the show really don’t see things turning out as they do.”

The title, of course, suggests that it is the young Louise – played here by Lauren Lomas – who is the star of the show but anybody who has seen it before will know that the real star is her monstrous mother, played in this new production by popular South Yorkshire actor Keeley Kilby.

“I don’t want the audience to see Mama Rose simply as a monster,” Mark insists.

“There has to be a balance, something that brings out the determination to success along with the other greater complexities of the woman, the things that make her do what she does.

“So when we were casting it I was looking for somebody the audience would warm to and probably even initially like before realising that she isn’t a very nice person – but you have to accept that in her and follow her story through.

“I think Keeley really has got what it takes – we’ll come out of the other side knowing she’s done a fantastic job.”

With a story that is always on the road in the search for stardom, Mark has decided to take a new approach to the staging, opting for back projection to keep the story moving .

“They’re on the move so much that it seemed obvious to use projection to capture all the places they visit,” he says.

“it’s about making it slick and making it move and as they move I want the audience to feel they are on that journey too.”

STOS Theatre Company present legendary Broadway hit Gypsy – the story of burlesque star Gypsy Rose Lee – at Sheffield’s Lyceum from November 13 to 17. For tickets call 0114 249 6000 or visit sheffieldtheatres.co.uk