Wolverhampton Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton – until 29 July 2017
The toast of the West End has been celebrated in Wolverhampton this evening as Natasha J Barnes (Understudy for Sheridan Smith in the show last year) gave a performance to remember as Fanny Brice. It’s easy to see why audiences took Barnes to their hearts last year and long may she reign, what an incredible find she is.
Funny Girl follows the story of Fanny Brice, a wannabe star who hasn’t the conventional beauty and figure of the traditional chorus-line girl. This does not faze her as she feels able to bring something different to the stage, her proposal being to become a featured comedy act. With her mother, Mrs Brice (Nova Skipp) behind her all the way and the aid of her confidante, Eddie (Joshua Lay) hot on her heels and also head over heels in love with the funny girl, she pursues her dream all the way to the top. Along the way we meet her mother’s cronies, Mrs Meeker (Zoe Ann Brown) and Mrs Strakosh (Myra Sands) who love a little flutter when they get together, usually Poker. However, it’s the introduction of big-time gambler Nick Arnstein (Darius Campbell) which not only turns Brice’s head, but her career and life as she knows it on its head. Arnstein doesn’t want to be tied down, but once he’s declared his love for Brice, she is hell bent on tying him down.
There are some stand-out musical numbers in this epic production, ‘People’, ‘I Want To Be Seen With You’, ‘Sadie Sadie’, and of course, ‘Don’t Rain On My Parade’. The piece has been beautifully choreographed by Lynne Page, plenty of solo work – the tap dancing in particular was extraordinary and ballet en pointe too. The set was quite something to behold, the scenery depicting the theatre in which Brice was playing was stunningly constructed and drew me in.
Darius Campbell is quite an imposing presence as Nick Arnstein, he had excellent chemistry with Barnes and his performance of ‘Temporary Arrangement’ was beguiling. Nova Skipp (standing in for Rachel Izen) gave a fine performance as Mrs Brice and demonstrated why she is a Swing in the show, an extraordinary all-rounder if ever I’ve seen one. Joshua Lay was incredible as Eddie, his dancing skills alone were stupendous and I felt that he worked brilliantly with Barnes. I was also thrilled to see Zoe Ann Brown back at the Grand having seen her in The Sound of Music last year. When she appeared in The Sound of Music she stood out for me, and this time in the role of Mrs Meeker, she was both comedic and gentile in equal measure – a firm favourite here at Break A Leg.
The hype around Natasha J Barnes is justified in my humble opinion, she gives Streisand a run for her money. From comic timing to rival any stand-up comedian, to her vocal capabilities and an uncanny ability to switch emotions on and off – this actor has it all. So grab the chance to see her in the role – you’ll be mighty glad you did. She’s more than just a Funny Girl, that’s for sure.