Review: Funny Girl

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Funny GirlIn their latest production of Funny Girl, the Fugard Theatre and Eric Abraham have outdone themselves with a stand up show full of life, laughter and star power. Based on the original story by Isobel Lennart with music and lyrics by Jule Styne and Bob Merril, Funny Girl is a musical classic with a slew of iconic songs and characters, almost synonymous with the legendary Barbra Strrisand.

Directed by Matthew Wild, the Fugard’s production captures that timeless magical energy with stunning period costumes from the early 1900s. Designed by Birrie le Roux, the pieces stand out against the dark, architectural backdrop, which was created by set designer Saul Radomsky. Scene changes are made by simply rolling in or out a piece of furniture,  masterfully creating seamless transitions that help maintain the fast-paced show Wild has created. Wild’s ability to direct the audience’s eye and keep them captivated by the story is no doubt aided by the compelling performance of Ashleigh Harvey as Fanny Brice, around whom the show revolves.

Harvey has big shoes to fill as Brice, but she comes out swinging with brash confidence and a disarming sense of humour. By the end of ‘I’m the Greatest Star’, which not only shows off her vocal range but comic timing as well, you know that Fanny is in good hands. Her turbulent relationship with the alluring Nick Arnstein, played by Clyde Berning, is sincere and heartfelt, but it is her quirky magnetism that draws in and holds the audience with her. She has show-stopping vocals, too, showering the audience with one soaring note after the other in ‘People’ and the notorious ‘Don’t Rain on my Parade’.

The entire cast keeps up well with her energy and vocal prowess, dazzling with ensemble numbers such as ‘If a Girl Isn’t Pretty’ and ‘ Sadie, Sadie’. The stage bursts into a fervor of movement during these numbers, with fast paced choreography by Louisa Talbot utilising elements of tap, rag-time, ballet and more. Standout supporting performances are given by Cameron Botha as Eddie Ryan, who steels into your heart with his easy boyish charm and effortless open voice. And I loved the comic trio of Mrs Brice, Mrs Strakosh and Mrs Meeker played by Kate Normington, Diane Wilson and Michele Maxwell respectively. The brusque humour and candid commentary of these three delight whenever they grace the stage.

The cast is supported by outstanding live music under the direction of Charl-Johan Lingenfelder, adding yet another layer of magic to this already enchanting musical. With lovable characters, and music that makes you want to dance and sing long after the show is over, Funny Girl is entertainment at its best.

Shirley-Anne Bezuidenhout

Funny Girl is on at the Fugard Theatre until 3 June 2017.

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