Monday, 25 July 2016

Funny Girl, July 23, 2016 ***1/2

Music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Bob Merrill, book by Isobel Lennart
Produced by The Production Company 
State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne, until July 31, 2016 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert 
Stars: ***1/2
Review also published on line at Herald Sun Arts, Mon July 25, 2016 and later in print. KH
Caroline O’Connor & cast
The puckish and multi-talented Caroline O’Connor, part of Australia’s musical theatre royalty, reprises the role of Broadway comedienne, Fanny Brice, in Gale Edwards’ production of Funny Girl.

O’Connor’s bold voice, audacious style and impeccable comic delivery are perfectly suited to Fanny who rose to fame on stage in the flamboyant Ziegfeld Follies in the early 20th century.

Funny Girl (1963), set in New York before and after World War One, is a fictionalised version (book by Isobel Lennart) of Fanny’s bitter-sweet life depicting the early career of this plain but ambitious Jewish girl from the Lower East Side, her phenomenal success with Ziegfeld and her ill-fated marriage to Nick Arnstein (David Hobson).

Dressed in an absurd, hot pink and yellow, feathered chicken costume (Tim Chappel, Owen Phillips) in the hilarious chorus number, Cornet Man, O’Connor embodies the impudent, gawky and intentionally clumsy Fanny as she messes with the chorus line’s choreography (Kelley Abbey) that looks like a comical version of “twerking”.

More laughs follow when O’Connor, as the impudent Fanny, hijacks Ziegfeld’s romantic chorus number, His Love Makes Me Beautiful, that celebrates glamourous, elegant brides floating down staircases in revealing, gossamer veils, only to be interrupted by Fanny as a hugely pregnant bride.

Another ensemble hit is the military chorus, Rat-Tat-Tat-Tat, in which O’Connor gambols around the stage, wearing army khaki shorts and big, black spectacles and looking like a tiny Radar O’Reilly from MASH.

Two outstanding and well-known songs by Jule Styne (music) and Bob Merrill (lyrics) are highlights in this production: the poignant People and the rousing Don’t Rain On My Parade, both of which Barbra Streisand made famous.

However, much of the repertoire, although perky, entertaining and varied in style, is not as memorable, although the talented, on-stage orchestra plays them with assurance under the musical direction of Anthony Gabriele.

Hobson plays Fanny’s husband Nick, a gambler and promoter of shady business deals, and Hobson’s rich, velvety voice is a delight, although he sometimes looks uncomfortable in the role of this charming, slick but deceptive scoundrel.

Nancye Hayes is suitably bossy and intrepid as Fanny’s mother, Mrs. Brice, a saloon owner, while Susan-Ann Walker is comically interfering as her friend, Mrs. Strakosh.

David Ross Paterson brings dignity to Florenz Ziegfeld while Luke Alleva’s tap-dancing is his greatest strength as Eddie Ryan, Fanny’s long-time admirer and choreographer.

In Edwards’ production, the characters, music and choreography are diverting, engaging and funny but the accolades are for O’Connor and her mischievous and impertinent portrayal of Fanny Brice.

By Kate Herbert 
 Caroline O'Connor & David Hobson

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