Funny Girl

Tue 12th – Sat 16th November 2013

reviews

Kayte Williams

at 09:19 on 13th Nov 2013

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I know how many musical theatre fans there are in Cambridge, and I promise you you're very lucky that 'Funny Girl' is here to satisfy your cravings. In plot it's half a grown-up version of Hairspray, half a heart-wrenching leading lady drama. You're going to be amazed at the talent and filled with emotion. The issue of women's image in the media is even hotter now was it was in the play's first 1964 production – the play explores how girls seem to have to fit into the accepted-physical-appearance box, or be kept off stage. Justina Kehinde Ogunseitan, playing Fanny Brice, gives an awesomely confident performance, a real leading lady, as she fights the stereotype in Fanny's quest for success. She was the first to convince us that this show is worth paying attention to.

Director Emily Burns' modernizing touches, replacing letters with emails and telegrams with Twitter, brings the show forward to the X Factor era. However, 60s attitudes still shine through – the series of Very Important Men whom Fanny has to impress seem more interested in short skirts and making sexual advances than recruiting some talent.

Funny Girl's singing and orchestra were constantly fantastic – beautiful harmonies, a rambunctious brass section and the phenomenal talent of Lily Grieve, another of the four girls playing Fanny Brice. Yes, there are four who each take a turn in telling the next chapter of Fanny's journey to the Broadway stage, which means everyone gets a chance to show off their talent. One of Paige Thompson's, for example, happens to be doing the splits suspended two metres above the ground while singing her heart out. As you do. The boys (quite literally) supporting her were less convincing as a chorus line, and took a little while to settle in, being as a rule less exciting and confident than the girls. However, Rory Boyd did a hilarious star turn as the unrequited lover, and his comedic scene with Sophie Benefer was one of the best bits of the show. Catriona Stirling provided some great cynical comic relief from the starry-eyed young hopefuls. But Funny Girl is a musical of two halves, and Grieve's powerful performance in Act Two shows Fanny shining through adversity in the second half to show the men who's boss.

The lighting is striking throughout, with spotlights aplenty, which really gives the show a Broadway feel, though I heard some people behind me remarking that longer blackouts would give the furniture a chance to get on and off stage without awkward pauses. Actually the show was even pretty slick in moving in and out of songs – I defy any Broadway production to do better on its second night. The costumes the girls wore were pretty starry as well, and the inspiring final image of Funny Girl is four women, united through thick and thin, using hard work as well as talent to achieve their ambitions. I'd be surprised if the stars of the show didn't follow their example and do just that.

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