Funny Girl – May 2008

7/10

Music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Bob Merrill, book by Isobel Lennart

Directed by Angus Jackson

Venue: Minerva Theatre

Date: Tuesday 13th May 2008

I’m not a great one for musicals, but I was interested to see this one. Barbara Streisand made the part of Fanny Bryce so much her own that it’s understandable that there’s been no major production of it for many years, so as I haven’t seen the film, this was pretty new territory for me.

Of course, many of the songs were familiar, and the story, despite being based on Fanny Bryce’s life (or parts of it), was incredibly familiar. Piaf, Marie Lloyd, etc. all seemed to have similar themes to their life stories. But here we only get to see the unpromising beginnings, the rise to stardom and the glory days – no descent into post-stardom for this show.

To get across the show-biz nature of the piece, most of the sets showed the back wall of the theatre itself, which also doubled as the outside walls of the apartment blocks in the run down area Fanny comes from. There were some more opulent sets as well, for when she’s made it big, but I really don’t remember noticing the changes, they were done so slickly.

The story is one long reminiscence, as Fanny prepares to go on stage. Starting with her early attempts to get a job, we see her shoehorn her way into a tall, leggy chorus (she’s short and plump), take over the act completely by improvising comic business, and gradually make herself the star of whatever show she happens to be in. She’s helped in this by a tall, good-looking chap, Nick Arnstein, who seems to be well-off, and is certainly charming. He bids up her salary with the current management by claiming to represent another theatre, so she’s naturally grateful. Not that that matters, as she fell hook, line and sinker for the guy as soon as she clapped eyes on him. He, of course, is a chap with no real job, who just loafs around the theatre circuit taking advantage of whatever’s on offer. He soon realises that Fanny is an all-you-can-eat meal ticket, and it’s not long before they’re married. Naturally, there’s another chap who adores Fanny, but whom she regards as a good friend, and who would have been a much better match for her.

To do him justice, Nick does actually want to make his own way in the world; he’s just hopeless at doing it. He invests Fanny’s money in at least one get-rich-quick scheme (a golf course or hotel or casino, or some such), and loses it all. Later on he gets an amazing offer of a job that seems to be right up his street, but he realises it’s too good, and that Fanny has arranged it to give him some self-respect. That proves the clincher, and they split up. Fanny had even given up her career to be Nick’s wife, but now she has to go back on the stage to earn her living, and the play takes us up to her return.

It’s a moving story, with some very good songs, and this cast do it pretty well. The musical numbers with the dancers were all excellent, some of the duets were a bit weaker, but Samantha Spiro gave us a very good Fanny Bryce. Her voice isn’t as strong as Streisand’s, obviously, but she got the vulnerability across, and still got my toes tapping to the songs. I prefer musicals like this which do at least have some depth of character to them, so I enjoyed myself more than I expected.

© 2008 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

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