Tuesday 1st June, 2.30pm
With a score by Jule Styne and echoes of its predessessor, Gypsy, Funny Girl does not fail to provide the audience with bold, emotional numbers; perfect vehicles for a star performer. At a time when many productions are moving away from the use of fuller orchestras, the depth of the overture and entr’acte, and indeed the use of the orchestra throughout the show,are to be lauded. The original book, written by Isobel Lennart sets a clear narrative throughout the first act, seeing Fanny grow from unsuccessful chorus girl to a seasoned theatrical performer; strong in her chosen career and her relationship with Nick Arnstein. The second act is rather more ambiguous and, knowing the story of Fanny Brice, appears to have aspects that are left unresolved. This lack of clarity for the audience, despite later additions and revision to the book, from Harvey Fierstein, has been overcome by the strength of this production itself.
Having booked to see Funny Girl purely because: a) it’s Funny Girl, so why wouldn’t you? And b) because we couldn’t get tickets for it’s Menier run I wasn’t affected by a great desire to see any particular cast member. Instead I was in to watch purely on the strength of the original work.
Natasha Barnes, currently covering in the absence of Sheridan Smith was an absolute joy to watch. From the moment she appeared on stage you could feel the entire audience supporting her. A case of life mirroring art was definitely prevalent and she left a sense that she certainly is a star in the making. Everything was given in this performance; comic timing, facial expressions, mannerisms all having us transfixed. Her renditions of the well known numbers including I’m the greatest star, People, Don’t Rain on My Parade were sung with an air of vulnerability and showed the humanity of Fanny Brice, rather than someone with a desperate need to perform at any cost. Natasha Barnes was certainly in touch with the emotions of the character through these big numbers but also displayed power and strength.
The onstage chemistry between Fanny and Nick Arnstein, played by Darius Campbell worked well. Arnstein is an interesting character who left me pondering; is he a complete ne’er do well gambler and chancer or is he pushed by Fanny’s increasing success to gamble in order to prevent him being a ‘kept man’? I was never totally convinced either way but he was a charmer.
With designs by Muchael Pavelka and direction from Michael Mayer, Funny Girl has great production values that enhanced but did not draw attention away from the fantastic performances given by entire cast. The standing ovation at the end was entirely deserved. My only regret is not to have the time to see this again.