In the tough Depression years of the 1930s a young woman called Rose Louise Hovick started to make a name for herself in the burlesque theatres of America, writes John Highfield.
A simple wardrobe malfunction – a broken shoulder strap – and a change of name to Gypsy Rose Lee created a theatrical phenomenon, striptease with the emphasis on the teasing rather than the stripping.
And eventually the most ladylike of strippers found her story transformed into the legendary musical Gypsy, which comes to Sheffield’s Lyceum this November in a new production from STOS Theatre Company.
STOS Theatre Company produces the world’s top musicals at the Lyceum, made for and by the people of South Yorkshire.
It draws on the very best local talent, employs hugely experienced professional creative teams and invests up to £100,000 on each show to ensure the production values are without equal.
The company’s shows have been seen by more than 15,000 people in the last three years alone.
But in the 1930s, when Gypsy Rose Lee was breaking down the barriers of what could be considered acceptable entertainment, STOS – then known as Sheffield Teachers’ Operatic Society – was providing a much more wholesome range of shows for South Yorkshire audiences.
The society had been founded in 1901 and was launched with three performances of Gilbert and Sullivan classic The Gondoliers.
By the 1930s the range had been extended much wider than G&S and was embracing popular titles from the West End – although with nothing that would have been considered offensive to family audiences.
Hit musicals like The Vagabond King, Goodnight Vienna, The Silver Patrol, The Damask Rose and even a singing version of The Three Musketeers were the favourites of the decade.
They are mainly forgotten now but were ground-breakers in their day, delighting audiences with sumptuous costumes and sets.
What the casts of those shows would have made of a production celebrating the birth of the strip show is hard to imagine.
But one thing is certain – the same levels of dedication that made those 1930s productions so popular will still be very much in evidence when Gypsy makes her debut at the Lyceum this November.
Gypsy – the story of burlesque star Gypsy Rose Lee – runs at the Lyceum from November 13 to 17. For tickets, call 0114 2496000 or visit sheffieldtheatres.co.uk