IF there’s one show which can transport you to the sheer pizzazz of Broadway, it’s Funny Girl. The story of Fanny Brice, whose mixture of vocal talent and comedy carried her from humble Brooklyn beginnings to super stardom brought global fame to Barbra Streisand on stage and screen 50 years ago and any portrayal is bound to be measured against that template.
So this stage revival, visiting Nottingham’s Theatre Royal as part of a UK tour, has a hard act to follow. But it succeeds and if you can’t imagine anybody filling Streisand’s shoes, well Natasha Barnes comes just about as close as possible in what, for her, is an absolute triumph.
One of the strengths of this show is that while some of the songs are familiar it is fresh for most audiences. Fanny unveils her story from her dressing room at the New Amsterdam Theatre in New York in 1927, with flashbacks to her Brooklyn beginnings through vaudeville to headlining the legendary Ziegfeld Follies. Brice was a natural talent, with her ungainliness, comic timing and an ability to sing serious and silly songs with equal commitment. She was something of a pioneer in that she was one of the first really popular comediennes – a total contrast to the leggy, attractive dancers in Ziegfeld’s line-ups.
It’s not an easy role but Barnes is quite superb. Some of her best moments are when she is alone on stage, dovetailing perfectly with the big dance routines with the entire ensemble. And the showstoppers, People and the first act-ender Don’t Rain on My Parade, are handled with aplomb.
Her love interest is Nicky Arnstein, tall, handsome, debonair, a businessman with a fondness for the cards, the dice and the horses. Here we have Darius Campbell strolling through the part, using his height, elegance and deep voice to reprise his role in the West End opposite Sheridan Smith.
It is Arnstein, with his sophistication and contacts, who is the dominant figure in the early stages of the relationship: then, in the second act, as Fanny’s star rises his wanes, along with their deteriorating relationship.
A show such as this needs strong support and this is provided by excellent performances from Joshua Lay as Eddie Ryan, a song and dance man who has been with Fanny since her Brooklyn days and suffers from a bad dose of unrequited love, and her mother (understudy Nova Skipp on press night) with further strong showings from Nigel Barber as Florenz Ziegfeld, Jennifer Harding, Lloyd Davies, Myra Sands, Zoe Ann Brown and Martin Callaghan.
Set and costumes are superb and musical director Ben Van Tienan gives full rein to the superb Jule Styne and Bob Merrill chart in what is a lovely throwback to the golden age of Broadway.
Funny Girl is at the Theatre Royal, Nottingham until Saturday June 17.