Funny Girl

Theatre, Musicals
4 out of 5 stars
Funny Girl
Photograph: Jeff Busby

Caroline O’Connor glimmers in this loving call-back to the good old days of stars and dreams

With a pocket full of nostalgic dreams, the Production Company brings back to the Australian stage the ’60s musical that launched an unknown Barbra Streisand into the pantheon of stars. Caroline O’Connor, who gave a momentous performance in the same role in 1999, takes the lead in the Melbourne production of the smash hit Funny Girl. Infused with a vibrant spirit and a lot of puffy laughter, the razzle dazzle of yesteryear comes under the spotlight in this show in splendid style.

Set in the days of 1920s high-class vaudeville glitz and glamour, Funny Girl celebrates the somewhat accurate life of theatre legend Fanny Brice (Caroline O’Connor) as she first storms her way onto the American stage. A classical beauty she (apparently) ain’t, and her big sense of humour is a tad too bizarre, but there’s just no way she isn’t going to be the best there ever was. Everyone’s got their eye on Fanny, but she’s got her eye on handsome entrepreneur Nick Arnstein (David Hobson). And she always gets what she wants, with absolutely no exceptions.

Feelings juggernaut Caroline O’Connor takes the whole damn cake as our zany leading lady Fanny Brice. She’s got a pop-bang energy that effortlessly switches between darling-eyed show stopper and empress of sass. Although, it’s hard to ignore O’Connor’s age; as desperate as we are to look past it, she’s straining to be convincing as a young go-getter. You’ll simply not care, though, in her powerful renditions of show favourites ‘People’ and ‘Don’t Rain On My Parade’. Caroline O’Connor has a voice angels would gossip about over the phone while seething with jealousy.

Heavily inspired by the vaudevillian style of the early 20th century, director Gale Edwards takes a simplified approach with Funny Girl. It’s all about the glamour, the booming voices, the planet-sized lights, with no need for much more. The constant sense of silly fun and gleaming nostalgia that Edwards has worked into every moment puts this simple, cheery story on its best foot.

David Hobson is admirable as the stubborn romantic lead with a taste for money-making schemes, although perhaps teeters on caricature at times. Nancye Hayes is a ball of sharp tongues as the barby Mrs Brice. The supporting cast play their roles splendidly for what are essentially unmemorable parts – after all, there’s only one person who really matters in this show.

Anthony Gabriele has cool flair as musical director, and leads the newly formed Production Company Orchestra with a confident flourish.

Choreography from Kelley Abbey brings a lot of gliding, fun swings to the piece. The ensemble’s glitzy vaudeville movements delightfully accent Tim Chappel and Owen Phillips’ flashy show tune costumes.

Shaun Gurton’s grand staircase frames the stage and the on-stage orchestra well, but the design otherwise doesn’t seem to serve much more than a functional purpose – although one could certainly point to the classical musical style to understand why, and maybe it’s a good thing to have pared things back in the end.

Trudy Dalgleish’s lighting is elegant and sparkly except for a few dark faces, and sound mixing by System Sound is beautifully handled.

By: John Back

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