Funny Girl, currently playing at London's Savoy Theatre, has been the cause of a great deal of hype since it opened in April. For a show that has been heavily revered by a lot of critics, I was slightly surprised that the production didn't completely explode onto stage; it was a pleasant, but very gentle show. However, the performance of Natasha J Barnes, who has been covering the principal role of Fanny Brice in the absence of Sheridan Smith, raised the show to a level of real excellence. The silver lining around the cloud of Smith's absence is that Barnes has been given a much deserved opportunity to absolutely shine, and she really does fill the stage with life, and energy. The show completely revolves around Barnes, and she makes the character of Fanny Brice so interesting, and engaging, that I would defy anybody to be unimpressed by the production.
Photo credit: Johan Persson
The story of Funny Girl is much more focused around the “journey” of the protagonist (Natasha J Barnes) than a beginning-middle-end plot. We get to know the character of Fanny Brice, and become more and more emotionally invested in her as, throughout the show, she juggles a budding career in show-business with an increasingly complicated set of relationships.
Funny Girl being so character-focused, it is easily to become really absorbed in the life and feelings of its sparky protagonist. A good deal of comedy is built throughout the show; although this could be drawn out a tiny bit more at times, it is generally well balanced so that it comes across as subtle but effective.
The pace of Funny Girl drops a little at times, but it is mainly good. The sections of dance (which, incidentally, is where a lot of the comedy comes in) helps to pick up the pace, and the songs give the show a nicely varied texture.
As I have mentioned, Natasha J Barnes plays an incredible Fanny Brice. She has an awesome voice, and her acting is bursting with energy. I can see why she has been compared to Imelda Staunton; she has the same quirky intensity, and the same impressive level of versatility. Barnes plays the character of Fanny Brice believably, and with a huge level of conviction. She brings real depth and likeability to the character, whilst simultaneously remaining fun and enjoyable to watch. When I went to see the show, Barnes received a full standing ovation at the end of the show, and she couldn't have deserved this more.
The rest of the cast are good, although completely overshadowed by Barnes. Darius Campbell played a slightly stiff Nick Arnstein, but perhaps this is just part of the character. He does have a fantastic voice, however, which is a hugely redeeming feature. Joel Montague plays a very convincing Eddie Ryan, and it is hard not to be drawn into feeling sorry for the character. Again, he has a really lovely voice.
Don't Rain On My Parade is, as might be expected, a real highlight of the show. The rest of the music is good, although some would probably enjoy it more than others. It is quite a traditional style of musical music, but it is enjoyably light and upbeat. I was extremely impressed by the orchestra, who were absolutely on fire, bringing the whole show to life when they played.
The staging of the show is good, although not particularly knock-out. It's not really the sort of show that leaves you amazed in terms of visuals – but, given the contents of the show, there isn't a great deal of scope for this anyway. There is a really nice set-up used a couple of times which makes the back of the stage look like the auditorium of a theatre, and this is surprisingly effective. Other than that, the staging is fairly standard.
The choreography of the show is great, especially the tap dancing. Perhaps there should have been more of an emphasis on the dance when it was happening, because it was fantastic, but quite hidden away.
Would Most People Enjoy It? ★★
If you like shows along the lines of Gypsy, Guys and Dolls and other more classic musicals, you will almost certainly like the pace and style of Funny Girl. However, if you want to see something with a stronger, more stark impact, you might find another show slightly more suitable.
The “Wow” Factor ★★★
The show revolves around the character of Fanny Brice, and so it follows that the main “wow” factor in the show is the performance of Natasha J Barnes. Aside from this, it is more of a “nice” show than a “wow” show. As I always say, that isn't necessarily a bad thing, it is just a certain style.
All in All …
The show will leave you impressed by Natasha J Barnes, and content after having spent a very enjoyable evening in a lovely theatre watching a lovely show. It isn't one of those spectacular, does-everything shows, but it has character and conviction. You can catch Funny Girl in London from now until October, and (excitingly) you can also catch it on tour from February to June next year.
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