Saturday, September 3, 2016

FUNNY GIRL



Funny Girl. 

Music by Jule Styne. Lyrics by Bob Merrill. Book by Isobel Lennart from an original story by Miss Lennart. Directed by Jarrad West. Musical Direction by Rose Shorney. Choreography by Amy Fitzpatrick. Supa Productions. The Q Theatre. Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre. 19 August until 3 September 2016.

Vanessa de Jager stars as Fanny Brice in Funny Girl
PPhoto by Craig Burgess

Revisited by Peter Wilkins

It’s not uncommon for a critic to revisit a production in the West End or on Broadway. Usually it will happen if the production has a very long season or if the there is a significant cast change. I have already reviewed the opening night with understudy Philippa Murphy giving an outstanding performance as Fanny Brice in the Supa Production of the hit Funny Girl. I returned on the penultimate night of a three week season to see the original Fanny Brice, Vanessa de Jager, who had recovered from an illness to again assume the role of Fanny Brice in the musical about her personal and professional life..

Vanessa de Jager takes on the role of Fanny
Brice in Funny Girl
Almost three weeks on, the production shone even more brightly. Performances were more confident and inventive in the company of the original star. Amy Fitzpatrick’s routines were slicker, quicker and snappier. Hamish McConchie’s lighting seemed brighter, more colourful and evocative of the period. Even the orchestra under Rose Shorney’s musical direction appeared more bold and brassy in numbers such as Don’t Bring About The Clouds To Rain on My Parade or Rat a tat Tat.  Director   Jarrad West has retained the lively freshness, detailed characterization and stage imagery of a show that has amateur status and professional gloss.  It remains a show that shouldn’t be missed, a highlight of Canberra and Queanbeyan’s musical theatre year.



Joel Hutchings as Nick Arnstein and Vanessa
de Jager as Fanny Brice in Funny Girl
Photo by Craig Burgess
Creators , composer Jules Styne, Lyricist Bob Merrill and writer of the book, Isobel Lennart, have produced a make or break musical that rests entirely on the casting of the central role of  comedienne, singer, vaudevillian and actor, Fanny Brice. West’s decision to cast de Jager in the role is a stroke of genius. De Jager assumes the role as though she was born to play the enigmatic Fanny Brice. It would be simple to make comparison with Barbra Streisand’s idiosyncratic film role. Both Streisand and De Jager have an innate sense of comedy. They are natural comediennes with the quick quip, the sudden wise crack to disguise the fragile insecurity, the cheeky petulance or tightrope stubbornness. One can take the Jewish girl out of the Lower East Side, but you can’t take the Lower East Side out of the girl. Mama Rose, played with perfect pitch by Michelle Klemke, makes the perfect fussing, possessive stereotypical Jewish Mum and she and Will Huang make an unlikely pair in their lively “If A Girl isn’t Pretty”. I have to revise my opinion of Joel Hutchings’ Nick Arnstein. This was a confident, assured performance, buoyed in this performance by de Jager’s truthful characterization. Both Hutchings and de Jager chart the rollercoaster ride of their characters, and both have voices that can lift the spirits and touch the heart. Funny Girl is an actor’s musical and the two leads make it an unforgettable experience.

 
Vanessa de Jager is Fanny Brice
Photo by Craig Burgess
But this review of all too short a season is to comment on the return of de Jager. This immensely talented musical theatre performer has already established a fine reputation as a leading light on Canberra’s and The Q’s musical stage, most recently in Company and The Last Five Years. Funny Girl is a different matter    It makes enormous vocal and performance demands as it presents the life of Ziegfeld’s favourite comic. Much of the book is fictional, but there is enough there to give us a glimpse of Fanny Brice who brought such joy to audience’s through the Great Depression.
De Jager, while reminding me of Streisand’s quirkiness, makes Fanny Brice her own. Hit numbers such as the moving People, the brassy, bold and defiant Don’t Bring About The Rain To Fall On My Parade, the cheeky, mischievous I Am The Beautiful Reflection Of My Love’s Affection”  and the jubilant declaration I Am The Greatest Star are greeted with rapturous applause by an enthusiastic audience, fortunate enough to see de Jager in the role of a lifetime, at which she triumphs and which she has made her own.

 
Vanessa de Jager and the Ensemble in Sadie Married Lady
Photo by Craig Burgess
 De Jager is superbly supported by the talented cast, musicians, costume designers, and all behind the scenes who have made SUPA’s Funny Girl  a good old Oldie made fresh, bright and new again. I hope that this production has been videoed, so that both the production and de Jager’s phenomenally good Fanny Brice may be preserved.
Tonight is the final night of the production. Lucky are those who have been delighted by its magic. For those who missed out, treat yourselves to the Streisand movie or the CD.
 It will give you some idea of the magic that you’ve missed.

 

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