Real-life Cinderella story of burlesque superstar Gypsy

Lauren Lomas as Gypsy Rose Lee
Lauren Lomas as Gypsy Rose Lee

As rags to riches sagas go, the incredible story of Rose Louise Hovick has to be right up there with Cinderella and her glass slipper.

AS rags to riches sagas go, the incredible story of Rose Louise Hovick has to be right up there with Cinderella and her glass slipper.

But while Cinderella’s rise to the top is the stuff of pure fiction, the extraordinary thing about young Rose Louise’s ascent to fame is all true - more or less.

And it was such a fascinating story of outrageous motherhood, blind ambition and beginner’s luck that there’s no wonder it would find itself being given the musical treatment.

In the legendary Broadway and movie hit Gypsy, Stephen Sondheim, Jule Styne and Arthur Laurents created one of the most enduring backstage stories in showbiz history.

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

The story - based moderately on the facts - centres on the outrageous and ambitious Mama Rose’s attempts to turn her two young daughters June and Louise into stars.

When the precocious and talented June outgrows the act and elopes with a young dancer, however, the pressure falls on the shy Louise to step into the breach.

But all shyness is forgotten when a broken shoulder strap transforms the blushing youngster into Gypsy Rose Lee, the biggest Burlesque star of all time and the woman who almost made striptease a respectable profession.

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 Gypsy at Sheffield’s Lyceum from November 13 to 17. For tickets, call 0114 249 6000 or visit sheffieldtheatres.co.uk