It needs a glittering and glorious central performance to elevate the thin story of early Broadway star Fanny Brice to something spectacular, and that is precisely what Natasha J Barnes delivers in Michael Mayer’s stunning revival of Jule Styne and Bob Merrill’s classic Funny Girl.
From a 15-year-old at Keeney’s Theater in Brooklyn, through the Ziegfeld Follies to super stardom, Brice’s beaming Broadway smile disguises a world of personal pain, mostly at the hands of her devastatingly handsome, inveterate gambler of a husband, Nick Arnstein (Darius Campbell). Ultimately, Brice’s success is her downfall. After landing the man of her dreams, her generosity, and disbelief at her luck in doing so, leads to Arnstein’s emasculation and his departure.
With the 1968 film performance of a certain Barbra Streisand indelibly etched in the memory, Barnes has a big job to make the role her own. It requires an actress that can take Fanny from the big Broadway belters to nuanced comedy, to searing heartbreak and back to slapstick, and boy does Barnes deliver in spades. A natural comedienne, Barnes handles the laughs with ease, not an easy achievement when the comedy is as broad as this. There’s finesse and there’s charisma, and there’s an impressive set of pipes on display.
As Arnstein, the object of Brice’s desire and devotion, and the cause of her emotional downfall, Darius Campbell, here in his home city, is a commanding presence and ably matches Barnes’ dazzling central performance. His deep, dark baritone and undoubted good looks eliciting oohs and ahhs throughout.
In support, Broadway and West End veteran Rachel Izen is particularly memorable as Fanny’s formidable mother as is Joshua Lay as Brice’s long-time friend and close confidant Eddie Ryan – Lay has impeccable comic timing and is a fine dancer. The ensemble is universally on point, Lynne Page’s beautifully detailed choreography executed with energy and precision. Mention must also be made of the crystal clear diction of the entire cast, something that is woefully lacking in most musical theatre casts today, every word, every lyric landing perfectly on its mark.
Michael Pavelka’s set, framed with an off-kilter proscenium arch, takes us seamlessly from New York’s Lower East Side tenements, to back (and front) stage of the Ziegfeld Follies, a Baltimore train station, and Fanny’s Long Island mansion.
Yes, the story of this woman, a self-proclaimed ‘bagel on a plate of onion rolls’ is a bit thin, but the performances are faultless. This is an unmissable, memorable and long-overdue revival of a musical theatre classic. Pure class from curtain up to curtain down.
Runs until 3 June 2017 | Image: Manuel Harlan
This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub here