Loft Theatre, Leamington, until December 16
A STAR is born. She bounces on to the stage, performs cartwheels, does the splits, and sings and dances like a seasoned professional.
Little Charlotte Knights plays the precocious Baby June in the much-acclaimed showbusiness musical – and commands the theatre in this terrific opening section. She’ll be sharing the part with Beth Woolley for the show’s run, both hopefully winning hearts as Leamington’s answer to Shirley Temple.
It’s a great start but, strangely, there’s a long way to go before the production hits top gear again. That only really comes when the grown-up June’s sister Louise somewhat ironically becomes the one to hit the heights, in another riveting performance by Nikki Claire Cross.
Louise’s success, as the stripper and showbiz phenomenon Gypsy Rose Lee, is superbly realised when this accomplished all-rounder delivers the transformation from dowdy second-stringer to star with style and vivacity and a splendidly vampish quality. At such moments, Tim Willis’s production brilliantly transcends the supposed limitations of local theatre.
For the rest, things could improve with the run. There’s a strong hint of this in Rayner Wilson’s portrayal of the central momma figure Rose only striking true form in the last impassioned ten minutes of the show. Until then, this Rose is not the dominating force required to drive through the theme of unstoppable theatrical mother ruling the roost and destroying the good things around her.
This is a lavish and difficult show to produce in the best of circumstances and there are certainly the benefits here of a fine orchestra directed by James Suckling and lively dancing by a large team of spirited youngsters who are effectively put through their paces by choreographer Francesca Smith.
A striking debut by Vanessa Gravestock as the teenage June and some well-observed character work by John Fenner as Rose’s partner and agent provide other good moments, but it’s to be hoped the production will quickly develop a more cohesive pattern.