New Victoria Theatre, Woking – until 29 April 2017
This bubbly production directed by Michael Mayer has plenty of laughs but is also surprisingly bittersweet and sentimental. As Barbra Streisand celebrated her 75th Birthday on the 24th April, it seemed appropriate to watch her most iconic role performed on stage by a performer who is equally as talented – Natasha J Barnes.
For those who (like me) don’t know a lot about the musical, Funny Girl follows the story of Fanny Brice and her rise to fame and her relationship with Nick Arnstein, played with plenty of charisma by Darius Campbell. It showcases the perils of fame – and how it really isn’t possible to have it all.
Michael Mayer’s production is slick and sophisticated from beginning to end, getting the balance between humour and sincerity perfectly that the audience is really able to feel the bittersweetness of the last few moments of the musical. But Mayer also proves equally capable of highlighting the number of outstanding songs by Jules Stynes and Bob Merrill outside of the famous ‘Don’t Rain on My Parade’. Songs such as the charming and sincere ‘I Want to Be Seen With You’ and the funny ‘You are Woman, I am Man’ are also worthy numbers from the musical.
But Mayer is supported well in the simplicity and yet somehow still glamorous set design by Michael Pavelka, which easily adapts from the glamour of the stage to the party scene at Henry Street.
Everything about the production really transports the audience from 2017 to the 1920’s – including the wide variety of simple but stylish costumes designed by Matthew Wright and the effective lighting by Mark Henderson ensures that the audience are completely submerged into this sophisticated era.
But of course, the cast led by the stunningly talented Natasha J Barnes as Fanny also help to gain the audiences’s enthusiasm and attention by putting in strong performances. Barnes as Fanny is a mixture of comical and vulnerable, that in another actresses’ hands could become tedious – but in this case Barnes judges the character beautifully, never over the top or exaggerated but natural and believable. She nicely contrasts ‘stage fanny’ with ‘off stage fanny’ to offer a rounded performance – with the most poignant moment coming towards the end of the musical and realising exactly what damage she has done to her relationship is heartbreaking.
Barnes is nicely matched in the sophisticated and debonair performance of Darius Campbell as Nick, playing him as an almost loveable rogue and yet somehow even the audience is slightly weary of his intentions. His increasing frustration with Fanny’s neediness and desperation at his financial situation – wanting to have his own money and not to depend on Fanny is subtly played but builds up the tension effectively.
There is also solid support in the form of Rachel Izen as the practical and supportive Mrs Brice, Joshua Lay as Fanny’s secret admirer and friend Eddie and Nigel Barber’s strict but still good natured Florenz Ziegfeld.
All in all, Funny Girl is a brilliantly funny and poignant show that is filled with classy performances. This touring production proves that you can get West End quality outside of the West End and is well worth a watch if it comes to a venue near you.