I know I'm late for this party. But what a party. Jonathan Church's production of Gypsy plays at the Savoy Theatre for another three weeks and has received the kind of 5* critical acclaim that most shows can only dream of. Its star Imelda Staunton – and she really is a star – is surely a shoe-in for the Olivier Award and any other awards that the theatre world can throw at her. I have to admit that I found her Mrs Lovett in Sweeney Todd a little restrained and internal for my taste, and had delayed seeing Gypsy for that reason. But this part is surely the defining role of her distinguished career and the definitive production of this musical for a generation. 
What I suspect Jonathan Church and Imelda Staunton have done is to approach Gypsy from the viewpoint of the text – Arthur Laurents' dialogue turns into song almost without you noticing – the songs emerge from the scenes rather than being played as showstoppers. So too do Stephen Sondheim's lyrics receive a kind of forensic layering of meaning in every word, every line, set against Jule Styne's vibrant score. This all allows the inherent drama of a challenging story to emerge and suits both the overall style of the production and the vocal quality of Staunton. She brings nuance and meaning to every line – her Rose is alternately optimistic, determined and controlling, enchanting, complicated, ruthless...and completely multifaceted.
This tale of the ultimate showbiz mum who drags her two daughters across America in a never-ending quest for success for their song-and-dance routine in vaudeville has found an ideal home at the Savoy Theatre, on its intimate stage under its ornate proscenium arch. Its this desire to make a star out of one of her daughters – something she missed out on herself – that drives Rose. Firstly, she focuses on the talent of Lauren Hall's June, who runs off with Dan Burton's Tulsa, one of the boys from their act, at the end of the first half. Rose then turns all her attention onto the previously neglected and less naturally talented Louise in the wondrous 'Everything's Coming Up Roses'. Gemma Sutton's Louise undergoes a great transformation from a girl who is very much watching life from the sidelines into a woman who becomes a star in her own right as Gypsy Rose Lee. But when Louise turns her back on her mother, Rose's inner turmoil is revealed in the stunningly-acted breakdown number, 'Rose's Turn'.

The whole production seamlessly blends Stephen Mear's choreography and Anthony Ward's terrific design with the words and music to drive the story along at an effective pace. Peter Davison generates considerable warmth as Herbie, the girls' agent and Rose's long-suffering beau – the 'Together Wherever We Go' routine is quite joyous. Anita Louise Combe, Louise Gold and Julie Legrand make a considerable impact in their all-too-brief scene as three strippers who 'Gotta Have A Gimmick' too. But naturally it's Staunton who makes the biggest impact throughout this dark, entertaining but demanding show. Momma Rose is a demanding and complex lead role but Staunton meets the requirements of it...and then some. Quite rightly, this production of Gypsy has been filmed for posterity and will be shown by the BBC over Christmas. Often revived on Broadway, this is the first production of this iconic show in the West End since the original production of over 40 years ago, and it will surely go down in musical history as the stuff of legend.