Gypsy at Buxton Opera House will be a 'perfect summer treat'

When Joanna Riding steps on to the Buxton Opera House stage in July, it will be a new experience for her on two counts.

By Louise Cooper
Friday, 20th May 2022, 5:31 pm
Updated Friday, 20th May 2022, 5:31 pm

While the award-winning performer has taken starring roles in West End shows such as Billy Elliott, Me and My Girl and Carousel, her career has so far not offered her the opportunity to appear in Buxton.

All that will change this summer however, when Joanna takes on the role of Madame Rose in Gypsy: A Musical Fable – her first time ever appearing in the show.

Part of Buxton International Festival, Gypsy will be a joint production between Buxton Opera House and the festival and will run from July 7 to 24 at the theatre.

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Joanna Riding on the Buxton Opera House stage. Photo - David King

Gypsy tells the true, powerful story of the rise to fame of 1930s burlesque star Gypsy Rose Lee and her tempestuous relationship with her mother Rose.

With the role of Rose considered to be one of the best and most challenging roles in musical theatre, Joanna is relishing the opportunity to take on such an iconic part.

"It is an iconic show and this is one of the greatest female roles in that genre. It's a beast of a role and I’m mildly terrified to be playing it. But to be asked to play the role is wonderful and I’m looking forward to it very much indeed,” she said.

"She is the archetypal showbiz mum. But the big question is, is she doing it for her girls or is she doing it for herself?

"I think she reveals the answer when she says she was I was born too soon and started too late. She is one big torrent of ambition and drive and she pushes those girls to be what she couldn’t be and I don’t think they have a lot of say in it.

"So really it is ultimately about her ambitions and about what she wanted. And Rose’s Turn, which is the big number, is revelatory in that I think she opens up her heart and her soul to what’s been going on all along."

As she prepares to take on the role, Joanna has been spending time researching the character and the show.

"I’ve only ever seen Gypsy on stage once myself,” she said. “But I’ve been exploring all the incredible actresses that have gone before and played it which is why it’s partly so terrifying because there are so many amazing actresses who have put their stamp on it and you just have to find your own way of playing it. It is interesting just watching what others have brought to it and wondering why they’ve made that choice or taken that line. It all adds to your thoughts about how you’re going to approach it.”

As well as theatre, Joanna has also appeared on television in shows such as Heartbeat, Holby City and The Royal, and has taken on many characters over the years. But she is keen to continually challenge herself by taking on new roles.

"I think if it slightly terrifies me, that’s always a good sign that I must do it,” she said. “It’s the Everest that one must climb. Mama Rose is one of the greatest and the greatest challenges, I think for an actress, not just because of the size of the role, the meat of the role and the complexity of that character but because so many greats have gone before you there’s the pressure to put your stamp on it. The danger I guess would be to make choices just because they’ve not been done before. But I’ve just got to try and forget everything that’s gone before and just stay true to what we feel is right.”

With the show running for much of July, Joanna is hoping to be able to enjoy some of the fantastic sights our town and surrounding area has to offer during the role too.

"I’ve driven through Buxton before but I’ve never actually visited the theatre. It’s beautiful, I’ve just been on the stage and what a gorgeous auditorium.

"We did have a family holiday in the Peak District area a few years ago so I’ll probably do all of those things again. It’s just such a beautiful part of the world so I’ll give myself some time to look around the area and to drive around.”

Buxton Opera House Chief Executive Paul Kerryson will be at the helm as director of Gypsy, which features lyrics by Stephen Sondheim (West Side Story), libretto by Arthur Laurents and music by Jule Styne, and is based on the book by Arthur Laurents.

"I think what’s fantastic about Gypsy is that it’s about a theatre and it’s about a showbiz mum but actually what I think the audience identify with is that mother daughter relationship, and the other relationships in the show as well,” Paul said. “I think people identify with those tensions between the mother and the daughter and they’re quite heightened in Gypsy. There’s great drama on stage and people can identify and have sympathy with either daughter or mother so they’re not just monsters that you’re watching because I think people come from a place and behave in a way for a reason.

"The creators of Gypsy it was Jules Stein, Stephen Sondheim and Arthur Lawrence so you’ve got one of those unusual musicals where there's a great book, there’s great lyrics and there’s great music so you’re dealing with a masterpiece.”

Tickets for Gypsy are on sale now, and if you’ve not already booked, you could be about to miss out on a real treat.

"It is one of the greatest musicals ever written so if you've never seen Gypsy, you have to see it,” Joanna said. “Whether you love musical theatre or not, it's an extraordinary piece of theatre. It transcends musical theatre because the book is so good, and it’s a play in its own right, but then you have these extraordinary songs, one after the other so it’s just one of those shows that has to be seen.”

And Paul also echoed Joanna’s comments, adding: “If you haven't seen it before, you have to have this as part of your life experience. I think it appeals to opera lovers, it appeals to play lovers and it appeals to musical lovers because it is such a powerful story. You’re gripped from start to finish and so who wouldn’t want to spend two and a half hours in the company of Joanna Riding, Stephen Sondheim, and Jules Stein? It’s just a perfect summers treat.”

To book tickets for Gypsy, see https://buxtonoperahouse.org.uk/event/gypsy-a-musical-fable or call the box office on 01298 72190.