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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

 
FUNNY GIRL
at Chichester Festival's Minerva Theatre

A ROLE OF ONES OWN
By CLIVE HIRSCHHORN

  Mark Umbers and Samantha Spiro/PH:Catherine Ashmore

Of all the classic musicals of the 1960's - the one hardly ever revived is Funny Girl. And it doesn't require rocket science to figure out why. Quite simply, no actress of any stature wants to be compared with Barbra Streisand who, at the age of 22,created the role of Fanny Brice on Broadway in 1964.

Streisand was a sensation and proved, conclusively, that it takes a star to play a star. She went on to immortalise her performance on film - for which she won an Oscar - and her proprietorial investment in the role was so complete that, 44 years later, it still is indelibly associated with her.

Enter Samantha Spiro, who, with no reputation to lose, and against overwhelming odds, triumphantly opens this year's Chichester Festival playing the indomitible Fanny.

I'm stating the obvious when I say that Ms Spiro does not have Streisand's voice (who has?) nor is she as naturally and as spontaneously funny.


But she's a very good actress indeed. She's funny enough, sings pretty well and has a warmth and a vulnerability that generously courses through Isobel Lennart's book.

She's utterly convincing and although not the star her predecessor in the role was, she manages to do the impossible: she makes you forget that you're not watching Streisand. No mean achivement, this.

Indeed, the whole production, strikingly well directed by Angus Jackson and resourcefully choreographed by Stephen Mear , is a minor miracle.

Staged in Chichester's intimate Minerva Theater rather than in the main house, the production avoids giving the impression that it has been scaled down in any way, and that what we're watching is some make-do, hand-me-down compromise of the original.

Nothing has been skimped. The sets, the costumes, the statuesque chorus girls -indeed, the enitre cast - are first rate.

As Nick Arnstein, the gambler who brought such joy and such pain into Fanny's young and impressionanle life, Mark Umbers is ridiculously good looking and personable with it.

Though little more than a device which allows Fanny to unleash the full spectrum of her emotions - both in song and in dialogue - his charm does wonders to flesh out this important, albeit subsidiary and under-written role.

As Fanny's mother, Sheila Steafel - a naturally gifted comedienne in the Brice mould - allows you to see from whence her daughter's comic shtick came and there are stalwart contributions from Sebastian Torkia as Eddie Ryan, who's really in love with Fanny, and David Killick as the great impresario Florenz Ziegfeld, the man who made her a star of his Follies'

Julie Styne's catchy score, exuberantly conducted by Robert Scott and Bob Merrill's witty lyrics sound as fresh as they did over four decades ago, and if Lennart's book isn't exactly a masterpiece, it's certainly efficient enough to engage your attention, and to keep the narrative (what little there is of it) on the move.

Could this be the surprise hit of the British summer?

 


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