Tag Archives: Harvey Fierstein

The Brice is Right

FUNNY GIRL

Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Monday 24th July, 2017

 

Barbra Streisand indelibly stamped herself on this role fifty years ago so it’s a tough job for anyone to follow in her Oscar-winning footsteps.  Natasha J Barnes steps up to the plate to give us her version of Jewish entertainer, Fanny Brice – and she knocks it out of the park.  Barnes’s Fanny is magnificent, sucking us into her world, with an energised, extrovert performance – Brice as a performer was larger-than-life and hardly ever ‘off’.  Her humour is a defence mechanism and a shield for situations when she feels uncertain or nervous, cracking jokes and pulling faces to mask her fears or her heartbreak.  Barnes can also sing, with subtlety and with full belt.  Her ‘People’ is almost understated in its tenderness and ‘Don’t Rain On My Parade’ brings the house down.  Rising through the ranks of showbiz, Brice’s instincts are to undermine the sexist tosh that is ‘His Love Makes You Beautiful’ – mainly because of her looks, which she is told repeatedly, ain’t pretty.  I take issue with this and this alone: Barnes is rather pretty indeed, lacking the distinctive features of La Streisand or La Brice.

Darius Campbell is a towering romantic lead as inveterate gambler Nick Arnstein, with his basso profundo delivery and inexhaustible supply of smarm and charm.  Nigel Barber is the long-suffering impresario Florenz Ziegfeld and Nova Skipp makes an endearing impression as Fanny’s mum.  Joshua Lay is excellent as Fanny’s friend and fellow hoofer, Eddie, while Martin Callaghan is good fun as Mr Keeney, the man who (reluctantly) gives Fanny her first break.  The entire company is on great form as an amusing bunch of characters supporting the powerful and, yes, funny central performance from Barnes. Lynne Page’s quirky period choreography also brings the Ziegfeld glamour to the production.  Michael Pavelka’s elegantly sparse set: a proscenium arch askew, mirrored wings, serves as every location for this stripped-down staging.  Harvey Fierstein may have reworked Isobel Lennart’s original book for the show but the show remains an undeniably old-school, old fashioned musical. It’s A Star is Born with a lot of heart and a lot of fun.

There are many, many peaks; the only troughs are shallow ones, whenever Fanny isn’t on stage and a couple of the numbers feel like fillers, however superbly presented.   Barnes is irresistible, almost an attention vortex, giving us the vulnerability and pain of Fanny behind the gurning and the glitz.  If you’re only going to give one standing ovation this year, this is the one who deserves it.

fuuny girl

The greatest star… Natasha J Barnes gives us her breathtaking Fanny

 

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Diversity Uncaged

LA CAGE AUX FOLLES

Birmingham Hippodrome, Tuesday 16th May, 2017

 

This touring production could not be timelier.  With anti-gay sentiments (aka idiocy) on the rise globally, the show reminds us that people are people and love is love.

In St Tropez, a nightclub has gained notoriety for its drag queens, foremost among whom is the delectable Zaza, or Albin when he’s at home, partner to the club’s owner, Georges.  When Georges’s son, Jean-Michele announces his engagement to the daughter of bigot-in-chief Dindon, an old-school politician, Albin finds himself edged out of the picture – and he’s not the kind to go sit in the corner…

It’s a conventional musical about alternative lifestyles, with its heart on its sleeve and its message loud, proud and clear.

John Partridge is in his element as Albin/Zaza, capturing the character’s brittleness as well as the camp mannerisms, and boy, can he hold a note!  It takes a while for Albin’s warmth to come out but when it does, it is beautifully understated in the show’s most touching moments.  Partridge’s Albin is a Northerner, coming across not so much as French Riviera as Canal Street, Manchester.  Adrian Zmed is more grounded as the charming Georges, while Dougie Carter sings like a dream as Jean-Michele – clearly a young man with a glittering future ahead.  Samson Ajewole is a scream as Jacob the flamboyant housemaid, showing us that families come in all sorts of configurations.   Alexandra Robinson is sweet as fiancée Anne, just as Paul F Monaghan is blustering as bigot-to-be-pilloried Dindon.  At his side, Su Douglas is Madame Renaud, with a couple of surprises of her own.

The extra-special treat of the night is Marti Webb as restaurant owner Jacqueline.  She’s still got it, that clear, strong voice, that poise, that presence.  Marvellous.

Harvey Fierstein’s book is funny and moving.  Jerry Herman’s score contains some iconic numbers (I Am What I Am, The Best of Times, Look Over There…) and the lyrics are witty and poignant.

A troupe of chorines fills out the musical numbers with more feathers than an ostrich sanctuary and more sequins than ten years of Strictly Come DancingLa Cage may offer colourful escapism but in truth it tells us that there are more ways of living in the real world than conservatives and prigs would have us believe.  This could well be one of the most important musicals ever written, especially since there are people and movements around who think we gays are somehow less than human.

la cage

Adrian Zmed and John Partridge being fabulous