Tag Archives: Michael Pavelka

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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Turning the Tables

TWELVE ANGRY MEN

Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Monday 18th May, 2015

Reginald Rose’s superlative play continues to do the rounds and I am delighted to have the chance to see the production again with a new cast. So intriguing and engaging is the writing that it doesn’t matter a jot if you’ve seen it before and know the outcome – any decent production of The Merchant of Venice can still get a lot of mileage out of its famous trial scene, and this production is no different. And, of course, if you haven’t seen it, you’re in for a treat and a half.

A jury is sequestered in a room on the hottest day of the year to deliberate their verdict in what seems like a straightforward murder case. A unanimous verdict either way is required. Eleven vote guilty but one lone voice dissents. This is Juror 8 played with calm assertiveness by Jason Merrells. Merrells is the morals of the piece, chipping away at the presumptions and prejudices of his fellow jurors, gradually winning them over to his way of thinking.   It is no accident that designer Michael Pavelka puts him in a white suit. It’s subtle symbolism in a muted colour palette and a thoroughly naturalistic production.

The set is evocative of place and weather conditions. The master stroke is the large table around which the jurors all gather from time to time. It’s on a revolve, moving imperceptibly so that our viewpoint is forever changing. The table, as well as the tables, is turned!

Director Christopher Haydon choreographs the actors so that the stage is never static, while maintaining a naturalistic air to their behaviours. Of those jurors – all of whom do a grand job – those that stand out for me are Denis Lill as an irascible racist loudmouth, Gareth David-Lloyd as a glib advertising executive, Alexander Forsyth as the youngest of the bunch, and Paul Beech as the eldest. Robert Duncan is a counterpoint to Merrells, but it is Andrew Lancel as Juror 3 who provides the emotional punch of the evening as the hothead with his own personal agenda.

An electrifying couple of hours that has you gripped from start to finish, it’s also amusing and thought-provoking, reminding us in these dark days of hanging fan Michael Gove as Minister for Justice, that once you carry out a death sentence, there is no going back.

 

 

Jason Merrells  as Juror #8 (Picture: Steve O'Connell)

Jason Merrells as Juror #8 (Picture: Steve O’Connell)