Funny Girl theatre review: Natasha J. Barnes is Fanny Brice in the highly-anticipated transfer of the beloved musical Funny Girl.

Funny Girl theatre review by Paul Heath, New Victoria Theatre, Woking.

Funny Girl theatre review // Image: Paul Coltas
Funny Girl theatre review // Image: Paul Coltas

Following a stunning revival in 2016 at London’s Savoy theatre, Funny Girl takes to the road in 2017 taking in 22 venues along the way. Touring until August, the show features two actresses stepping into the role of Fanny Brice, Sheridan Smith and Natasha J. Barnes, the latter of which takes centre stage for its current run at the New Victoria Theatre in Woking, which we caught on Tuesday evening.

Originally staged on Broadway in 1964 before moving onto the West End just two years later, Funny Girl is based on a remarkable true story, revolving around New York stage star Fanny Brice, originally played by screen and theatre legend Barbra Streisand both on Broadway and in her Oscar-winning turn on the big-screen. Brice was a comedic actress from New York and this stunning stage musical based on her life follows her career from the music halls of Brooklyn to the bright lights of Broadway. Set during the outbreak and aftermath of World War I, the musical charts her rise to fame and her chance meeting of gambler and entrepreneur Nick Arnstein (Darius Campbell), the love of her life.

Funny Girl theatre review // Image: Manuel Harlan
Funny Girl theatre review // Image: Manuel Harlan

More than fifty years have passed since this musical first played to audiences back in 1964, and following that triumphant return at London’s prestigious Savoy, Funny Girl becomes even more accessible to audiences as it travels the country. Viewing the production at a sold-out New Victoria Theatre, it’s easy to see its allure; Jule Styne and Bob Meryll’s music and lyrics and Isobel Lennart’s award-winning book, with a stardust sprinkling update by Harvey Fierstein, still standing up all these years on.

While some theatre-goers will be familiar with the material, some may not, but neither matter with this stunning reproduction stage with timeless aplomb as it dazzles from start to finish. While the script and staging are magnificent, a lot falls onto the shoulders of its lead, in this case the stunning Natasha J. Barnes who is an absolute triumph as Brice. I haven’t seen anyone else play the part on stage, but it’s difficult to imagine anyone but Barnes inhabiting the role. She’s is note and beat perfect in every scene that she is in and positively scintillating. She will win you over with her unique gift that she brings to the role, making you smile with sweet glee for most of the duration of the piece, and in the next beat break your heart effortlessly with her passion and vigour. During the curtain call at the end our particular performance, the audience clapped whilst seated until Barnes returned to the stage when we all rose to our feet to applaud her, the actress clearly overwhelmed by the response. We clapped loudly and we wept with genuine awe and Barnes deserved every tear.

Funny Girl theatre review // Image: Manuell Harlan
Funny Girl theatre review // Image: Manuel Harlan

Some adulation must also be reserved for Darius Campbell, the actor and singer furthering his stage career with another solid performance as Arnstein and showing maturity as a performer with a long career ahead of him. He’s truly excellent here and a worthy partner to Barnes’ Brice.

With a superb supporting cast, direction, impressive stage design and lighting, along with a wondrous accompanying orchestra, Funny Girl is one of the stand-out touring productions that we’ve seen all year, and certainly one not to be missed.

Make no mistake, as it comes your way this will be the hottest ticket in town, so ensure your tickets are booked at your earliest opportunity. Grab them by any means necessary as you will not be disappointed. Funny Girl is sweet, spectacular, superbly crafted musical theatre at its absolute best.

Funny Girl review by Paul Heath, April 2017.

Funny Girl runs at the New Victoria Theatre, Woking until Saturday 29th April before continuing on its UK tour. Tickets can be booked on the tour’s official website.

Funny Girl (UK Tour)