The superb Natasha J Barnes as Fanny Brice. Pictures: Paul Coltas

Funny Girl

Wolverhampton Grand


Natasha J Barnes. Make a note of the name. Musical theatre has a new star that lights up the stage like a beacon!

Hers is a story that could be the plot of any Hollywood musical. A chorus girl playing Emma in Funny Girl who is the virtually unknown stand-in as Fanny Brice when established star Sheridan Smith took an extended break suffering from stress.

Some disappointed fans asked for their money back, others went reluctantly along to the Savoy Theatre, feeling somehow cheated.

They never expected to be blown away by such a tornado of talent; standing ovations quickly followed – a star was born. The stand in had become stand out!

Barnes is funny, with some wonderful asides and facial expressions and what a voice – she has her first album out later this year incidentally.

Following in Barbra Streisand’s elegant footsteps is no easy task but Barnes forges her own delightful path, owning the role long before the end of Act 1.

Her versions of the show’s signature song People and the rousing Don’t Rain on My Parade are show stopping moments displaying a voice clear as a bell whether little more than a soft, gentle whisper or a belt it out top note finale. She has it all.

Fanny and Nick

Fanny with Nick Arnstein, played by Darius Campbell

Funny Girl is the glammed up tale of Fanny Brice, once the highest paid star on Broadway, $3,000 dollars a week and more in the 1920s, and one of her three marriages, her second in fact, to gambler and, in real life, inveterate con man, Nick Arnstein, one of a number of aliases, who was jailed for 14 months for wiretapping and swindling before he was divorced leaving him free to marry Brice – who had visited him every week in jail.

After they were married and had two children he was jailed again for three years for conspiracy involving stolen securities. They divorced soon after his release.

In this Jule Styne and Bob Merrill musical Nick, played in tall, dark and handsome style by Darius Campbell, has been somewhat whitewashed and is a suave man about town, a high-end gambler, horse breeder and businessman who becomes embroiled in a dodgy stock scheme only out of sheer desperation to make money after a disastrous hurricane wipes him out financially in Florida.

Campbell is charm itself, friend to the rich and famous and with a good, musical theatre voice on songs such as the sad duet with Fanny, Who are you now?

There is good support too from Joshua Lay as Eddie, the dancer who pushes her into the limelight after she was sacked by impresario Mr Keeney, played by Martin Callaghan, who runs his own theatre in 1920s New York.

Eddie is always there for Fanny but is never going to be any more than a friend.

Then there is Nigel Barber as the legendary Florenz Ziegfeld who employed Fanny in his famous follies and Barber gives him a suitable air of theatrical royalty.


Joshua Lay as Eddie Ryan

In the background is Fanny’s mother, played in a charming manner by Nova Skipp on Press night, and neighbour’s Mrs Strakosh and Mrs Meeker, played by Myra Sands and Zoë Ann Bown, who spend their time gossiping, trying to marry Fanny off and playing poker with a three cents limit.

Behind them all is an excellent ensemble with some fine dance routines from choreographer Lynne Page to give that big time Broadway show feel.

All that is helped by a big band by touring standards, 11 strong, under musical director Ben Van Tienen, and what a difference it makes – size really does matter with a fuller, richer, more rounded sound. It makes listening to the long overture a pleasure.

Michael Pavelka’s set design is both simple and elegant with slide on desks, make up mirrors, seats and a clever curtain arrangement upstage so we can switch from front of house to backstage, with a backcloth of Ziegfeld’s auditorium, in an instant.

Still on technical Mark Henderson’s lighting picks out moments without being intrusive with colour floods adding mood while Richard Brooker, and of course the cast, get the sound just right. You can hear every word and every note with crystal clarity.

Director Michael Mayer keeps up a natural pace and the result is a superb night’s entertainment, and as we said at the start don’t forget the name - Natasha J Barnes – the bright new star on the block. To 29-07-16

Roger Clarke


A new shining star


A funny thing happened to Natasha Barnes on her way to developing a theatre career . . . she landed the role of Funny Girl and became an overnight sensation.

People who can recall the film starring Barbra Streisand 50 years ago will know it is not an easy part to play, but the super star was brilliant as Fanny Brice, the would-be chorus girl who overcame rejection to reach the pinnacle of Broadway.

Well, Natasha has slotted into the role with amazing confidence, delivering a mixture of humour and vocal excellence which deserved the standing ovation she received from a large section of the first night audience at the Grand.

She sang the hit song, People, with great feeling, then brought the first act to an end with a stunning performance of Don’t Rain on My Parade. It was simply breath-taking.

Natasha forms the ideal partnership with tall, dark and handsome Darius Campbell who plays Nick Arnstein, the gambler she falls for in a relationship which leads to marriage but seems doomed by his money problems.

Campbell, who is a recording artist as well as an actor, impresses as the stranger who spots Fanny Brice’s talent early on, despite the fact that her passion for fun, at one point, threatens her career, and their love blossoms.

A fine performance, too, from Joshua Lay, playing Eddie Ryan, the theatre pro working so hard to help Fanny develop her stage skills even though his love for her is not returned.

The sets and costumes for this enjoyable musical are ideal and Lynne Page’s choreography works well in a show directed by Michael Mayer.

Paul Marston

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