Writer: Isobel Lennart
Music: Jule Styne
Lyrics: Bob Merrill
Director: Michael Mayer
Choreographer: Lynne Page
Reviewer: Bryony Luther
It is just over 50 years since Funny Girl was first performed in London in 1966. The lead role of Fanny Bryce was famously originated by Barbara Streisand, arguably providing her big break. This anniversary production began life at the Menier Chocolate Factory before transferring to London’s Savoy Theatre and is now touring the UK.
Funny Girl is a semi-autobiographical musical based on the life of Fanny Bryce and her rise to fame, from her first break to Broadway stardom. There is a romantic element to the show, provided by her doomed relationship with slick gambler Nick Arnstein who struggles to deal with his money problems. The show is bookended by scenes of Bryce in her dressing room, waiting for Arnstein to visit her after an 18 month absence. The rest of the show is constructed of flashbacks as she reminisces on her past with the dance halls of New York and the Ziegfeld Follies.
The success of this show rests on the performer playing Bryce, and the utterly charming Natasha J Barnes makes it impossible not to root for her, the underdog, to succeed. Barnes is a natural comedian who excels at the physical comedy necessary for this role, perfectly demonstrated in her attempts to keep up with the chorus girls dance routine. She shows great range when her character becomes more vulnerable, especially during the deceptively simple song People which has been famously covered by many top artists including Ella Fitzgerald and Nat King Cole. Darius Campbell first came to public attention after appearing on Pop Idol. Over these last few years he has transitioned into musical theatre where he has regularly performed charismatic leading roles in productions including Chicago and Guys and Dolls. Well suited to the part of Arnstein, he admirably provides support to Barnes’ tour-de-force.
The costumes are detailed and colourful (particularly the female outfits); Barnes especially has many quick costume changes, highlighting diversity in costume designer Matthew Wright’s talents. Funny Girl is a production where the performances themselves are the heart of the show, and the unobtrusive but effective set plays to these strengths. The set itself consists of a changing backdrop and small pieces wheeled on are enough to suggest location. Michael Mayer’s direction provides a strong visual identity, particularly memorable is when the lead has her back to us facing her adoring audience and Arnstein throwing money into the real audience after a successful money making venture.
This is a rarely performed show which has to be seen to be fully appreciated. The infectious energy and joy of the performers is palpable and the audience is immediately drawn into the adventure. Considering how successful this production is and the volume of critical acclaim it receives, it is hoped that we won’t have to wait another 50 years for this show to be revived again.
Runs until 5 August 2017 | Image: Manuel Harlan