Thursday, September 1, 2016

FUNNY GIRL

Vanessa de Jager as Fanny Brice in "Funny Girl" 

Music by Jule Styne - Lyrics by Bob Merrill 
Directed by Jarrad West
Musical Direction by Rose Shorney
Choreographed by Amy Fitzpatrick
Set Design by Brian Sudding
Costume design by Suzan Cooper
Presented by Supa Productions
Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre 19th August – 3rd September 2016

Performance 31st August reviewed by Bill Stephens

The musical, “Funny Girl” is based on a sanitised version of the relationship between Jewish comedienne, Fanny Brice and her gambler husband, Nick Arnstein, and set among the glitz and glamour of The Ziegfeld Follies, a series of lavish revues famous for their glamorous showgirls and extravagant sets and costumes.
 
Her performance as Fanny Brice in “Funny Girl” made a star of Barbra Streisand. It also did the same in Australia for Jill Perryman. It’s a demanding role in which the actress playing it rarely leaves the stage, and is required to emulate an acclaimed performer renowned for her comedic ability, as well as sing, dance, and play convincingly intense dramatic scenes. 

Vanessa de Jager (Fannie Brice), Joel Hutchings (Nick Arnstein) 

Vanessa de Jager was inspired casting in this role, and her luminous performance in this production will surely stamp her as among the region’s most accomplished leading ladies.  If there are hints of Streisand in her playing, that is only because Streisand has made the role so indelibly her own, that it would be impossible to do the role justice without referring to her interpretation.

But de Jager has found her own pathway, and creates a vulnerable Fanny Brice who hides her insecurities behind silly Yiddish wise-cracks and bone-headed determination. Her singing voice is clear and true, heard at its best in the defiant, bravura show-stopper, “Don’t Rain on My Parade”, or heart-breakingly poignant in “People”. 
  
However, de Jager isn’t the only reason to see this show. Among several other stand-out performances in the large ensemble cast, Joel Hutchings brings a fine voice and strong presence to the role of gambler Nick Arnstein.  Will Huang is likeable and convincing as Fanny’s choreographer, Eddie Ryan, who risks their friendship with his frank advice. 

Michelle Kemke (Rose Brice) in "Funny Girl"

Michelle Klemke charms in a fine comic performance as Fanny’s mother, Rose Brice, and is nicely teamed with Shennia Spillane as her friend and adversary, Sarah Strakosh. Peter Dark is an appropriately dignified, Florenz Ziegfeld, and Dave Smith contributes a superbly sung rendition of “His Love Makes Me Beautiful” as Ziegfeld’s finest tenor, Sedgway Abbott.

Dave Smith (Sedgway Abbott) in "Funny Girl" 

Strangely, the unattractive setting, which dominates the stage, gives the unfortunate impression that the show is taking place in some run-down travelling tent show, rather than the variety of locations, including some of Broadway’s finest theatres, suggested in the storyline.

It says much for director, Jarrad West’s resourceful staging and ability to draw fine performances from his cast, Susan Cooper’s imaginative costume designs, Amy Fitzpatrick’s well-danced, inventive dance routines, and Rose Shorney’s excellent orchestra which captures the authentic Broadway sound, that, despite the setting,  this production, now in its final week, is so successful in conjuring up much of the backstage milieu of the period, as well as providing an absorbing evening of theatre and a showcase for one of the outstanding leading lady performances of the year.


 
Vanessa de Jager (Fanny Brice - centre) and ensemble in "Funny Girl". 

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