‘Gypsy’ stands to musicals as ‘Figaro’ does to opera: an indisputable masterpiece of the genre that is simultaneously indestructible yet also very hard to deliver well. While it is easy to think that it is all about Momma Rose, the stage mother from Hell, who carries all before her, in fact it is an ensemble piece that depends on all the elements meshing and interlocking, and it is that kind of production that the Mill at Sonning delivers with both affection and panache.

One sign of a great dramatic work is that you always notice something new each time you hear it, and that was certainly my experience here. You can’t help noticing the sheer variety of Jule Styne’s musical numbers that succeed one another effortlessly every one a classic; the skilful multiple rhymes in Sondheim’s lyrics that even impressed a dying Cole Porter; the ease with which the scences morph in and out of suave and thrilling choreography, whether by Jerome Robbins or later interpreters. This time I was struck by the sheer quality of Arthur Laurents’ book – witty, believable and heart-tugging lines that time and again segue with a total inevitability into the emotional need for music. It is that magical moment of transition that every musical needs to succeed and here you can rely upon it every time.

The theatre at the Mill is small and intimate, and the director, Joseph Pitcher, has wisely taken out some of the front seats to accommodate a thrust extension to the stage. This gives the performances room to breathe especially in the larger company set-pieces while still keeping the actors close to the audience. Indeed the audience are bound into the action further by having many of the key entrances and exits take place through the aisles. Jason Denvir’s set is simple yet flexible so as to allow the actors to move on and off a lot of period props and furniture. Several of the actors also play musical instruments, adding extra layers to the fine little band directed by Francis Goodhand. It all flows dreamily thanks to this level of integration and multi-tasking.

This is a warmer production than many I have seen, and all the better for it. For all the frenetic monstrosity of Rose’s promotion of her children, the emphasis is on the joys, pains and camaraderie of touring, and a celebration of vaudeville and burlesque, making the story for a moment seem almost akin to Priestley’s ‘The Good Companions.’ The young children who play Louise and June in the early scenes perform with serene self-confidence and flair, and in fact all the supporting actors do a great job in their multiple roles, whether newsboys or ‘toreodorables’, or parts of a cow, or chorus girls supporting Gypsy Rose Lee.

There are no weak links in the central casting. In the lead role Rebecca Thornhill has the full measure of Rose, whether in masterminding the action or belting out her famously defiant defiance of fate and failure. But there is a gentler more vulnerable side too, which really helps the arc of the character when we get to the climactic ‘Rose’s Turn’. Her disintegration as she finally admits the scale of her career-long displacement activity is very affecting. Equally fine is Evelyn Hoskins as Louise/Gypsy Rose Lee. From shy, hurt vulnerability through to the witty nonchalance of the confident stripper is a huge journey, but she takes us with her with careful calibration and nuance every step of the way. Marina Tavolieri has less opportunity to fill out the character of June, but she communicates her bitterness and resentments forcibly so that her elopement with Tulsa seems a natural next step. Charlie Wadell conjures some delightfully graceful steps in ‘All I Need Is The Girl, and Daniel Crowder’s Herbie is warm and empathetic, believable in both his misplaced faith that Rose will marry him, and in his (and our) disgust at her treatment of Louise. Laura Tyrer, Susanna Van Den Berg and Natalie Winsor ensure that ‘You Gotta Get a Gimmick’ is the show-stopper it needs to be.

I cannot recommend this show too highly. Framed by the delightful setting on the Thames and fuelled by the excellent meal provided as part of the package, this is the ultimate early Summer feel-good experience, that nevertheless also does justice to the full range of comedy and poignancy of one of the great parables of the theatre.