REVIEW | Funny Girl at the Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury

Five months after she opened the carefully-wrapped box I had given her for Christmas, containing two tickets (a gift of theatre is a treat for two!), my mum and I made our way to the Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury two weeks ago to finally see the critically acclaimed and star-spangled Funny Girl.

Already well into its UK tour, it was Funny Girl’s last day in Kent before heading on up to Birmingham, and we had got ourselves seats at the matinée for the cast’s penultimate performance.

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I had never seen the film and had decided to avoid any kind of synopsis before I saw it on stage – I felt this show should be enjoyed blind, so I could get swept up (hopefully) in the story as well as the acting. Mum, on the other hand, was well acquainted with Streisand’s performance in the much-loved movie.

There’s really nothing like the thrill of sitting down for a performance and the lights dimming, is there?

Instead of Sheridan Smith, we were due to see Natasha J Barnes, who was taking on this leg of the tour. Though many would be determined to see a famous face on stage – particularly if they’ve had the response that Sheridan has had! – I wasn’t bothered and was keen to see all of the cast do their best. Natasha had received plenty of praise too.

Upon arrival, however, we were informed that Natasha was indisposed, and we’d be seeing Jennifer Harding take on the role of Fanny Brice. Again, this didn’t bother me one bit- the excitement of seeing the play was enough, regardless of who was in it! I was also excited to see someone get their ‘moment’ in the lead role.

Let me tell you; it was just amazing. I loved it. I literally spent the evening afterwards skipping and humming my way around the cobbled streets of Canterbury as if I was in Henry Street.

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I’m always a little dubious about a show or film which receives so much praise (just like La La Land). What if it doesn’t live up to your expectations? What if you feel let down, or misled?

Well, for me, Funny Girl lived up to the hype and utterly surpassed it by miles. We saw was an entertaining, heartfelt performance by a cast who were full of passion and pure talent. There was not one dull, slow moment, and each scene was emotional and full of life.

I won’t give a full synopsis for fear of revealing too much to those who, like me, want a surprise. However, a vague outline will do: the musical tells the story of Fanny Brice, a witty (and supposedly ‘plain’) young woman destined for stardom, and her rise to fame. Set in the early twentieth century, this musical is not pure romance – though love is a sure-fire theme. There’s also a healthy dose of ambition, drive, and resilience.

I’ll start with my star of the show, Jennifer Harding. Her Brooklyn accent was on point; her personality shone, and she was able to slip from witty and comedic to emotional and relatable in an instant. I followed her on her journey and she absolutely captivated me. And WHAT a voice! When she sang, I was with her, feeling her loss, excitement, bewilderment and sass.  I honestly couldn’t imagine a better fit for the role, and I really hope she gets many, many more opportunities to show the world what she can do as Fanny Brice.

It took me a few moments to remember that Darius Campbell – yes, that Colourblind crooner and ex-Pop Idol contestant – was playing the role of Nick Arnstein. He was slick, suave and utterly believable as the tall, dark and handsome man who suddenly swishes into Fanny’s life. He’s putting his fantastic singing voice to good use on the brightly lit stage and it really suits him.

The whole cast were entertaining – Mrs Meeker and Mrs Strakosh (played by Zoe Ann Brown and Myra Sands respectively) were the older ladies we all aspire to be; cheeky and flirty and up for a laugh. Fanny’s mother, Mrs Brice – played by Rachel Izen – was the ultimate matriarch; caring, sturdy and no-nonsense. Not to mention Martin Callaghan as the long-suffering Mr Keeney, who played his part with skill and humour. Everyone shone.

The show was a feast on the eyes and ears, hitting the right note with stunning costumes and a skilled live band. The set was simple, but really gave the feel of the glamour of classic broadway, reverberating with fame, fortune and the dreams of so many would-be stars.

Of course, I already knew a few numbers; ‘Don’t Rain on My Parade’ was just fantastic! But I particularly loved ‘I’m the Greatest Star’, ‘If a Girl Isn’t Pretty’ and the hilariously chaotic ‘His Love Makes me Beautiful’. There wasn’t one song I didn’t enjoy, though, and it was the perfect mix of lively and poignant.

The final scene was an emotional one for me. Fanny overlooks her immediate romantic pain and problems to rise to the occasion as the star she was born to be; stepping onto the stage, into the spotlight and becoming the woman we saw at the start of the show; one-of-a-kind and unstoppable: a funny force to be reckoned with.

My most emotional moment, however, was when the cast came forward to bow in the finale; seeing them all together, facing a standing ovation, was a true testament to the performance they had put on. A truly well-deserved response; I could have applauded until my hands were raw.

I also loved the message of the story; at the start we are shown how unlike other girls Fanny is; witty, not pretty; entertaining in more ways than just looks. She’s the clever, Funny Girl, outshone at first by the glamorous, leggy chorus girls that surround her. But, thanks to perseverance, determination, and unrelenting faith in her own talent, she sees huge success. A story, I think, so many of us ugly ducklings can relate to and possibly even draw inspiration from. I certainly left the theatre not only feeling entertained and elated but inspired, moved and hopeful.

I had a fantastic time at the Marlowe watching Funny Girl and would certainly put it up there with my all-time favourite theatre experiences. I can’t encourage you enough to get tickets to see the show on its tour, if you can. It’s definitely worth it. I know I’ll be resisting the urge to see it again when it comes down to Southampton at the end of the month!

Funny Girl is on tour until August across the country: view the tour dates.

Have you seen Funny Girl? What did you think?

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