Funny Girl – Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton

Book: Isobel Lennart, Revised by Harvey Fierstein

Music: Julie Styne

Lyrics: Bob Merrill

Director: Michael Mayer

Reviewer: James Garrington

Success in show business is said to be as much about being in the right place at the right time as it is with talent. The film version of Funny Girl, following a successful stage run, did much to promote Barbra Streisand’s career – and this production is doing the same for Natasha J Barnes. It was Barnes who was covering for Sheridan Smith when the show first appeared at the Menier Chocolate Factory, and who was called on to perform many times when Smith was indisposed – and did so to great acclaim, now sharing the role with her on a national tour.

Funny Girl is loosely based on the life of Fanny Brice, from her initial rise to fame from failed chorus girl to comedienne to Ziegfeld Follies star, and her marriage to inveterate gambler Nick Arnstein – and as the storyline takes the audience through the ups and downs of Brice’s life, Barnes makes sure that we get every ounce of emotion in her portrayal of the character. She brings out Brice’s impish mischievousness beautifully, allowing just a crack for the pain and hurt to show through the humour that Brice used as a defence mechanism. Not that this is all about comedy – the poignancy is there when needed too, not least with a nicely-judged version of People and an emotional Who are you Now? sitting alongside the big numbers like I’m the Greatest Star and the one everyone was waiting for, Don’t Rain on my Parade, closing the first half with a bang.

Opposite Barnes is Darius Campbell as Nicky Arnstein. Campbell has a suave sophistication that is well suited to the role, with a straight delivery that serves as a good counter to Brice’s brash humour. He also has a fine singing voice and gives a competent performance despite the role of Arnstein being somewhat two-dimensional and overshadowed by Brice. In a show full of humour there is great comedy from Myra Sands (Mrs Strakosh), Zoe Ann Brown (Mrs Meeker) and Nova Skipp (Mrs Brice) as a wonderful trio of Jewish Mommas with some great one-liners and comic put-downs. There is also good support from Joshua Lay as Brice’s downtrodden friend Eddie, the man who “taught her everything she knows”.

Some of the music is very well-known, largely due to Barbra Streisand, but there are also many less well-known but still worthy numbers in the show, with a good mix of comedy and tenderness in both the music and the book. This is a very entertaining production of a show that is seldom seen on stage. Performing in a larger venue such as the Grand cannot possibly give it the same emotional impact as it had in the intimate Menier, but it is still definitely worth seeing for all fans of classic musical theatre.

Runs until 29 July 2017 and on tour | Image: Manuel Harlan

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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