Review: Funny Girl

Leanne Walstow 13 November 2013

7.45pm, Tue 12 to Sat 16 Nov 2013, ADC Theatre

With the original 1964 Broadway production being nominated for no less than eight Tony awards including Best Musical, Funny Girl is a tried and tested classic reimagined for the twenty-first century in CUMTS’ new production.

Funny Girl tells the story of Fanny Brice – a role which earned Barbra Streisand the Academy Award for Best Actress in the 1968 screen adaption – who dares to dream of performing on a Broadway stage despite being deemed “not pretty enough”. However, in our modern day culture when stars are churned out overnight and fame is fickle, Fanny finds accomplishing her dreams much harder than she expected, especially when she enters a complex romance with suave charmer Nick Arnstein.

The brilliant CUMTS production of Funny Girl reworks the original story in a number of ways; Fanny’s search for fame is modernised using the medium of a TV talent contest, the characters themselves feel current and identifiable and present day props and costumes are used. This creates an interesting juxtaposition with the original music – performed wonderfully by the twenty-one piece band – which has a distinctly classic Broadway sound. Rather than creating a disconnect between setting and sound the music contrasts nicely with the ideas being portrayed (along similar lines to the time/music contradiction in Spring Awakening), prompting such questions as whether, by allowing theatre stars to be created overnight by reality shows, we are allowing the essence of traditional Broadway to slip away.

Another daring directorial decision is to have four different actresses (often on stage at the same time) playing Fanny. Although in particular scenes this becomes a little confusing, I think that for the new, more current messages the production seeks to capture and convey about the nature of celebrity, the quadruple casting works well. It serves to show the somewhat sobering fact that dreams are not exclusive to the dreamer, identical situations exist everywhere and therefore in order for Fanny to realise her goals she must fight even to be noticed amongst the fame-hungry masses.

Rather than the four leading ladies battling it out for the spotlight, each have their individual moment which gives the show a refreshing sense of variation as well as perfectly complementing the other performances. The standout moment for me personally was Lily Grieve’s beautiful rendition of the song “People” which expresses the feeling of loneliness that comes as the price of independence. Rory Boyd put in an excellent performance as the hapless yet lovable Eddie Ryan, displaying comic flair as well as showcasing a wonderfully unique voice. Quick mentions to Catriona Stirling for a lively depiction of the insufferable Mrs Strakosh and Alistair Phillips for a convincingly slick Nick Arnstein.

Classic songs, combined with the high quality of the performances, not only make Funny Girl a must-see production but also a thoroughly enjoyable night out. From the outset the stage presence of the cast is electric, especially in moments such as “Henry Street” (which features a cup song) when the comparatively large scale of the production becomes apparent. Best of all everyone involved seemed to be having a genuinely good time – I dare someone to rain on this parade.