Funny Girl has probably been the most talked about and widely acclaimed show in the West End for a few months, now.
It has not had consistently good press, if only for the fact that the original leading lady Sheridan Smith caused a bit of a scene before leaving the show for an ‘unspecified’ period of time due to stress and exhaustion.
People kicked off because they thought they were buying a ticket to see Sheridan Smith who happened to be performing in Funny Girl, rather than Funny Girl which happened to feature Sheridan Smith. Of course this would have been disappointing, obviously I understand that; this is the girl who refused to see a show on anything other than opening or closing night in order to minimise the chance of understudies for a good two years of her life, but that doesn’t actually entitle you to see anyone at all.
The best argument I saw, was you wouldn’t ask for your money back if you went to see a football match and someone wasn’t playing.
Anyway, now she’s set to return fairly soon, and in the mean time people have been experiencing the absolute joy that is Natasha J Barnes.
After an unexpected but reasonably enforced trip to A&E (everyone is fine, no one panic), we ended up getting to the theatre at 19:35. The show had actually, by some west end miracle, started on time, so we were escorted to the bar WHERE THERE WAS A SCREEN SO THAT THE LATECOMERS DIDN’T ACTUALLY MISS ANYTHING. Well done ATG, well done Savoy, well done world. We appreciated it, despite the sound being a bit dodgy and the camera angle making Natasha Barnes look far more short and stocky than she could ever be perceived in real life. Or you know, stage life.
Once we had got through our awkward stride to the other side of the theatre in front of several scowls, it didn’t take me any time at all to be immersed in the story.
Funny Girl features a couple of songs which you will know if you’ve ever listened to a compilation of Musical Theatre Hits, or Barbra Streisand. Or Glee, but I try to be classy enough not to mention that, as a rule.
Natasha J Barnes’ People, though imperfect in places, only increased my love for the song. As far as Don’t Rain On My Parade goes, I’ve never really understood it, despite having enjoyed it for as long as I can remember. It is a song which can be taken out of context and its musical grounding seems to leave it in good stead, yet seeing it in its authentic and proper place gives it a whole new level of meaning which I had completely missed until this point. I can still see that performance in my mind and I have the memory of a fish.
Every other performance was fantastic. I didn’t even notice that it was Darius (yes, that Darius) playing Nick Arnstein and I’d actually previously been told, so that should tell us all that he held his own. (Apparently his stance was too wide but whatever, maybe I just shouldn’t go and see things with actresses.) The ensemble made my heart happy each time they took to the stage, mainly because there was always a 90% chance of Tap.
While everyone was fantastic, Barnes really did carry the show, not by being the only decent person on stage, and most likely assisted by the depth of her character, but she held the stage like I’ve not seen anyone do in a musical maybe ever. I understand, having seen the show, why those with tickets to see the highly reputable Sheridan Smith were disappointed not to be able to see her, but I wholeheartedly hope that the large majority of them enjoyed Barnes’ performance more than they ever thought possible.
As a revival, and as a 21 year old myself, I have nothing to compare this to. I did not see the original production, and would not wish to compare the two anyway, but there was certainly nothing outdated about the production. I lost sight of the fact that it was a revival before we had even entered the auditorium – even the music just felt like proper musicial rather than written in the sixties.
The lack of half a star comes down only to this – I lose my way when stories are told like this one. It seems to happen often with revivals, It feels like it takes a whole act and a half to actually ‘set the scene’, to be incredibly key stage 1 about it, and then everything happens in the last quarter or so of the show. Maybe it’s because I’m nosey, but I want to know the details. I want her to sing three more songs about how that mess of a situation (no spoilers, don’t worry) made her feel, how it played out, what everyone thought about it, how the next 15 years were for her.
To be fair to any actress playing Fanny Brice, Barnes was in tears while taking her bow and mentioned on Woman’s Hour (yes I listen to that, brush over it, go…) that this was par for the course now. I don’t imagine that anyone could actually cope playing that part if we explored the feelings, details and hurt of the last couple of scenes more than the show already does. In any case, I loved everything about Natasha J Barnes’ performance, and anything which I could be slightly pedantic about was in no way a result of the cast, music or direction, far more the story, which I imagine is fairly set in stone.