‘It’s a big sing and a big ask, but it’s amazing’ – why Gypsy is returning to York after 25 years

Susannah Baines as Momma Rose in Pick Me Up Theatre's Gypsy. Photographs: Will Jackson
28 Jun 2017 @ 4.05 pm
| Entertainment

The rip-roaring vaudevillian musical Gypsy returns to York this week after 25 years away.

Gypsy by Pick Me Up Theatre

Grand Opera House, York

Wed Jun 28-Sat Jul 1


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Pick Me Up Theatre’s production of Gypsy, loosely based on the memoirs of the famous American striptease artist Gypsy Rose Lee, tells the tale of Momma Rose and her two daughters, June and Louise, their struggles on the 1930s vaudeville circuit and Rose’s pushiness as a showbiz mother.

Susannah Baines stars as Momma Rose, which is “a fantastic role – for middle-aged ladies, it doesn’t get any better than this,” she told YorkMix.

“It’s full on, it’s a big ask – it’s a big sing and a big ask, but it’s amazing.”

‘The music is phenomenal’

‘You should come to Gypsy for the songs’

Pick Me Up’s production of Gypsy is somewhat modernised compared to the original film, where Rose is portrayed by Rosalind Russell – “If I acted it like Rosalind Russell, people would be like ‘what is she doing?’,” says Susannah.

Instead, Susannah has chosen to cleverly combine her favourite aspects of Rose’s previous iterations, including Patti Lupone, Bette Midler, Imelda Staunton and Benedict Peters.

“You take Imelda’s acting, you take Patti’s singing, you take Bette Midler’s zest for life. Benedict Peters, well, if I could do anything Benedict Peters could do…”

She adores singing, describing herself as a lyric soprano. A particular favourite of hers from the show is Rose’s Turn, the final number, as she gets to do “a little bit of burlesque”.

Susannah says there’s an element of her in Rose

And it is the music that’s at the heart of the show.

“You should come to Gypsy for the songs, for the music – the music is phenomenal,” said Susannah, who previously starred as Mrs Lovett in Pick Me Up’s production of Sweeney Todd last year.

“It’s not just the big ‘boom boom’ numbers; there are some fantastic, more subtle numbers. There’s dancing, there’s children, there’s a dog; it’s funny, it’s sad.

“For a rip-roaring good night out with some cracking songs, Gypsy’s your man – well, your woman actually.”

Here’s more from Susannah on this ‘very demanding’ show – and a possible visit to fantasy land…

‘I quite like a bit of burlesque’

Like mother, like daughter? Susannah and Maren Fageras Naevdal as Louise

It’s been 25 years since Gypsy has been performed in York – why?

It’s a big show, a really big show, and you have to have the right cast. It’s been in the West End recently, so obviously you couldn’t get the theatrical rights for it.

It’s technically demanding, the staging is demanding, the scenery is demanding. There’s not a simple aspect; it’s not a simple show. It’s a challenge, and you have to get the right people. I think York is definitely ready for Gypsy, definitely.

How did you prepare for the role of Rose?

It was quite difficult. I’m the right age, so that’s easy, but the singing is really out of my comfort zone – it’s much more belty and low, and I’m a lyric soprano.

When I started, I thought ‘oh my goodness, what have I let myself in for?’

The acting isn’t so hard because I’ve got two kids and by the end of the show, the kids are the same age as my own. Rose is a caricature and over the top.

If you asked my children if I was like Rose or not, I think they would probably say there’s an element of Rose in me, because I think every mother does want to the best for their kids. I just hope I don’t go about it like Rose.

Who’s your favourite character apart from Rose?

Everyone loves Dainty June. Maya Tether, who’s playing the older Dainty June, must be having a ball – it’s so over the top; all squealy and jazz hands and high kicks.

I would also have a sneaky liking to do Louise’s burlesque, though. Maren, who’s playing her, she’s beautiful and she’s gonna look fabulous. I quite like a bit of burlesque.

Come to the cabaret!

How long have you been acting for?

I’ve been acting for around 35 years now. I started after seeing an advert for Bugsy Malone, a school show. I was Blousy Brown, and that’s the first thing I ever did. I branched out into local companies, and then went to university to do drama and English.

I had my kids and had 20 years off – didn’t do anything for nearly 20 years, and I’ve been back at it for probably around 3-4 years. I thought I’d ease myself back in gently, with a little tiny part in Ghost.

What would be your dream role?

I love Sondheim, so Follies would be fantastic. If I was younger – which I’m not – Funny Girl would be great. I tend to like the old-fashioned musicals. If I was completely different, Dreamgirls would be amazing – that’s another fantasy land, isn’t it? But for middle-aged ladies, Rose and Mrs Lovett are the two, I think.

Any advice for those wanting to get into acting?

Go and see as many local shows as you can, and look at what the companies are doing. The beauty of the York companies is that they each have their own little niche – go and see them and see where you’d feel at home.

Expect to start small; don’t expect to walk straight into the lead.

York is an incredible place for theatre – if you like musicals, there’s plenty of them; if you like straight acting, there’s plenty of them.

Get involved, don’t be frightened to take the first step. You don’t have to be Judi Dench, you just want to get involved and do it.