Theatre Review: Funny Girl

Sunday 5 June 2016 by

Funny Girl, Musical, Savoy Theatre, Natasha J Barnes

Whether you’ve seen the Barbara Streisand film, or just witnessed the hype around the new play, Funny Girl is one of the must-see musicals of 2016.

It tells the story of Fanny Brice and her rise to fame in the 1920s. This musical gave rise to some of the most famous songs ever – including You Are Woman and Don’t Rain on My Parade (which I have been listening to on repeat ever since).

The title role is played by Natasha J Barnes, taking over from Sheridan Smith, who has taken a break from the show. I could go on about how this is her big break, about Sheridan Smith taking a step back, and all the gossip that has gone with it, but that’s really not important.

The revival at the Savoy Theatre marks the 50th anniversary since its first appearance in London, and the theatre is the ideal spot for this show; with a small cast of just 24 and simple set (the most extravagant feature being the two travellators that are used with aplomb) it feels like you are right in the action.

Funny Girl, Musical, Savoy Theatre, Natasha J Barnes

Natasha J Barnes as Fanny Brice

Barnes is stunning as Fanny Brice – she glides smoothly between the comic and the tragic, rolling from the ever-smiling public-facing Fanny to the private Fanny whose downfall is her desperate love for Nick Arnstein (played by Darius Campbell – yes, that Darius, who has morphed in to quite the fantastic stage actor). Even when moments seemed to run away from the cast, she carried it off with energy and skill (as a stray moustache proved). Plus, she has a real set of lungs on her – her rendition of Don’t Rain on My Parade gave me goosebumps and lifted the whole theatre in to a standing ovation.

The true story of Fanny Brice is not the most cheerful, and the show balances the comic side of her with the sad turn of events carefully – never pulling you too far in one direction. Campbell and Barnes are the hinges on which the play sits, and they walk the line nicely, guiding here and following there – on stage together they are magnetic, and the relationship feels authentic and not too overdone. Brice is a relatable, sweet girl and you can’t help but fall in love with Arnstein too. It’s a hard watch as they navigate the pitfalls of fame and money.

The theatre itself is impressive for its diminutive size, but it is remarkably warm, so be warned! The whole audience was completely enthralled with Barnes, the orchestra was pitch-perfect and even if there was the odd slip up, the whole thing felt slick and professional. But there is heart to this musical too – it was evident from the tears when it came to take their bows, that Barnes puts everything in to her performances, and the audience responds in kind. The energy will lift the hairs on the back of your neck and keep you smiling for hours.

This show is worth every penny, but be quick, because it’s on a very short run (and Barnes’ turn as Brice is only for the next week or so).

Tickets start from £28.50, order through the Savoy Theatre website now

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