Funny Girl at The Marlowe Theatre Review


If you read last week’s Show Sunday, you would’ve noticed that Funny Girl was touring at a theatre close to me this week. So guess what I did on Wednesday! That’s right, I took a spontaneous trip to the theatre; after stopping off at a cute café first I might add. A lot different to going to the cinema. And I must say, it was an evening well spent!

What is Funny Girl about, I hear you ask? Funny Girl is a biographical musical about Fanny Brice, a unique performer in her time and a member of the Ziegfeld Follies. She was well known for her comedic and witty performances, a complete contrast to the perfection of the rest of the showgirls in the Ziegfeld Follies. Like many women in the theatre industry in the 1920s and onward, Brice had a lot of unsuccessful marriages. Funny Girl focuses on her second, her marriage to Julius Arnstein, as well as providing an insight into her journey to success. It tells how she runs away from theatre to marry a man, and then consequently finds comfort in her career.

Wednesday night’s performance was a mixed bag. There were definitely moments that shined however there were also moments that were anticlimactic. None of it was bad, and it was a really enjoyable show but in particular moments rather than throughout.

Natasha J Barnes played Brice well, although I felt moments of weakness. Of course, we must not forget that it’s a big role to play. Her strongest song was definitely “I’m the Greatest Star”, where she persuades Eddie to help her, singing about how she’s different from the other girls but unbelievably talented. Barnes fit very well into the role as young Fanny Brice. However, I felt that she didn’t quite fit into the older version. Fanny Brice has a sense of maturity that Barnes seemed to be lacking. At times there was this feeling that something was missing, and you couldn’t quite put your finger on what it was. Perhaps this is in the book or music itself, we cannot know.

In terms of vocals, her belt was very strong, a light toned voice and lovely to hear. I got goose bumps! Although she wasn't quite powerful enough during the musicals most famous number, "Don't Rain On My Parade." Barnes shined the brightest during her comedic moments, but her voice weakened during quieter, more emotional scenes. Furthermore, although she had tears running down her cheeks, I wasn’t quite moved enough at times. Darius Campbell had similar issues; I could hear that he was struggling a little on the higher notes, not quite getting the right tone and power. However, his suave performance of Arnstein was impeccable. He had just the right amount of sleaze, smoothness and lovability about him. Not to mention that Barnes and Campbell’s chemistry on stage was perfect. They really bounced off of each other.

I had noticed that there were lots of wardrobe malfunctions, perhaps due to too many quick changes. Barnes was occasionally fiddling with a costume during her scene. The most noticeable mishap was during "Rat-Tat-Tat-Tat", when her moustache started falling off as soon as the scene started. A completely innocent problem, in fact it happened during a serious scene in Sweeney Todd at my university production. Unfortunately, Barnes didn’t handle the situation well at first, breaking character too soon by delivering lines of the song through giggles. However, after the shock wore off she did pull it together and subsequently ended up playing the falling moustache onto her eyebrows, creating a monobrow. This I found to be hilarious, and made me wonder whether the malfunction was intended all along. This and many other scenes reflect Barnes greatest ability in this show, her excellent comedic timing.

Other honourable mentions go to actors Rachel Izen and Joshua Lay, Brice’s mother and Eddie. They both performed gracefully, being a lovely break between tense moments in the second act. Plus, Eddie’s tap numbers were to die for! The costumes were gorgeous and the set was well thought out, especially with the iconic dressing table mirror. At times I really felt the similarities to the film, and the set supported this.

All in all I found this show light hearted and hilarious, however I wasn’t quite moved enough by it. I agree with Paul Vale when he says that the musical loses steam in the second act. It doesn’t quite live up to the hype it promises to have in the first half. Funny Girl was a fun performance and a lovable show, similar to Sondheim’s Gypsy, but unlike Gypsy, I didn’t find myself speechless or overwhelmed at the end. Just happy that I’d seen another pleasant performance.

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