A story of outrageous motherhood laid bare  

Keeley Kilby and Milo in the STOS production of musical Gypsy, coming to the Lyceum, Sheffield
Keeley Kilby and Milo in the STOS production of musical Gypsy, coming to the Lyceum, Sheffield

Sometimes it takes just the unlikeliest and smallest detail to create a showbiz legend.

Take, for instance, the story of young Rose Louise Hovick and her broken shoulder strap.

If it had not been for a minor wardrobe malfunction, the world would probably never have heard of the girl who was transformed into Gypsy Rose Lee, the queen of Burlesque and the pioneer of striptease.

And a fascinating story of outrageous motherhood, blind ambition and beginner’s luck would never have been transformed into an all-time enduring musical favourite.

In the legendary Broadway and movie hit Gypsy, Stephen Sondheim, Jule Styne and Arthur Laurents created an instant classic.

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 next week in a new production from STOS Theatre Company.

The story - based loosely on the facts - centres on the outrageously ambitious Mama Rose’s attempts to turn her two 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 respectable.

For STOS director Mark Harris this intimate slice of American vaudeville is a great contrast to the scale of last year’s  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 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’S  Gypsy IS at the Sheffield Lyceum from November 13 to 17.