Theatre Review: Funny Girl

14 June 17 words: Beverley Makin

The rise of a Vaudeville legend

Natasha J Barnes as Fanny Price and Darius Campbell as Nick Arnstein

Natasha J Barnes as Fanny Brice and Darius Campbell as Nick Arnstein

Musical fans will be all too familiar with Fanny Brice and movie biopic Funny Girl that hit screens 50 years ago. With an oscar winning Barbara Streisand, the name that usually springs to mind when we hear the title. Sheridan Smith was the billed superstar for this tour but stand aside big names as in this show we witnessed a fabulous understudy Natasha J Barnes in a Fanny Brice tour de force, clearly a role she was born to play.

Funny Girl charts Vaudeville legend Fanny Brice's rise to fame from humble roots as the daughter of Hungarian Jewish immigrants living in New York in the early 1900s. Supported by a lively cast of about 25 dancers and singers in fabulous period costumes we follow kooky East Side girl Fanny through from early stage fun to her big break with theatre impresario Florenz Ziegfeld and his famous Follies.

Always knowing she was no American beauty, Fanny uses her natural comic talent, physicality and versatile singing voice to become the star attraction of musical reviews in New York and around the US. On the road to becoming one of the highest paid performers on Broadway with her wit, comedy, infectious smile and ability to tackle a huge range of songs.  

However, her personal life is no Broadway fairy tale, particularly when she meets and marries no good gambler Nicky Arnstein played by Darius Campbell (yes, the Darius) and between them they perform some of the most iconic Funny Girl tunes – ‘People’, ‘You are Woman, I am Man’, ‘What Do Happy People Do?’.

Cards and horses, bad investments and even jail time for Nicky makes for a struggle to keep them and their children afloat through the ups and downs of their marriage. Campbell playing a calm and suave Nicky to Barnes’s erratic and energetic Fanny and boasting a voice that you could listen to all night, but lacking the passion and animation seen in Fanny and the rest of the cast. It's from their wreckage of a marriage we get to witness the true steel and talent of Barnes as Fanny with her passionate show stopper ‘Don’t Rain On My Parade’.

Other performances to keep an eye out for are Fanny’s friend and admirer Eddie Ryan played but Joshua Lay and her mother played by Rachel Izen. Both part of the lively period dance routines and sporting beautiful and detailed costumes of the time.

If you love a classic musical (or even if you don’t) get yourself along to Funny Girl. Barnes’s genuine tears as the curtain fell were met with one of the few full-house standing ovations I have ever seen at Theatre Royal.

Funny Girl plays at Nottingham's Theatre Royal until Saturday 17 June 2017.

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