Funny Girl

23rd June to 1st July 2023

Bob Merrill, Jule Styne & Isobel Lennart | Sutton Arts Theatre | Directed by Emily Armstrong & Dexter Whitehead

The latest musical offering from Sutton Arts Theatre captivates from the moment Phebe Bland’s Fanny Brice locks eyes with the audience through a dressing room mirror surrounded by light bulbs. Bland's winning performance exudes confidence and feistiness, instantly establishing a connection with the audience that lasts throughout the show.

Directed by Emily Armstrong and Dexter Whitehead, this production of the classic musical ‘Funny Girl’ combines the comic with the tragic brilliantly, taking us on a rollercoaster ride through one woman’s meteoric rise to fame and fortune.

Barbara Streisand starred in the original Broadway musical and her 1968 performance opposite Omar Sharif in the screen adaptation is how many people are familiar with this semi-biographical story, based on the life and career of comedian and Broadway star Fanny Brice.

With a score by Jule Styne, lyrics by Bob Merrill, and book by Isobel Lennart, the show (mostly in flashback) follows Fanny’s journey from a girl with big dreams on the Lower East Side to one of Broadway's most beloved performers. Against all the odds, she rises from a Brooklyn music hall singer to a shining star of the Ziegfeld Follies.

Phebe Bland's portrayal of Fanny Brice is nothing short of stellar and is worthy of the professional stage. She brings a stunning voice as well as acting talent to this iconic role and is ably supported by the cast. Her infectious energy and comic timing is a winning combination: she smiles with her whole body in a wonderfully endearing performance. The most famous solo musical numbers (‘People’ and ‘Don’t Rain on my Parade’) are pitch-perfect but several duets and whole company numbers stand out: ‘If a Girl isn’t Pretty’, ‘Henry Street’ and ‘You Are Woman.’

There’s a gentle chemistry between Bland's Fanny and Kieran Jenkins' Eddie Ryan, her devoted dance director who would love to be more than friends. Jenkins portrays Eddie as a faithful puppy, his affection for Fanny evident in every scene they share.

Paul Atkins nicely combines charm, pride and insecurity with a strong voice as love interest and Fanny’s eventual husband Nicky Arnstein, effortlessly donning the top hat and tails of the suave gambler. The turbulent nature of their relationship becomes clearer, especially as financial struggles take their toll. Fanny's poignant comment that their marriage was ‘bad casting’ serves as a stark reminder that perhaps they never truly knew each other.

Mrs Brice, Fanny’s straight-talking no-nonsense mother, is brought to affectionate life by Jenny Gough in a performance which is both comic and endearing. There’s excellent support from Val Tomlinson’s Mrs Strakosh, Andrew Tomlinson’s Mr Ziegfeld and Patrick Richmond-Ward doubling as Keeney and Renaldi. Anna Stuart’s slick choreography shines through in dance sections performed by a talented chorus of Follies/Keeney girls and the whole show is brought to musical life by a fantastic live orchestra under the direction of Doug McIntosh.

Phebe Bland's exceptional portrayal of firebrand Fanny Brice is the heart of this superb production. Complemented by numerous and swift costume changes throughout, this is an impressively staged musical not to be missed, whether you're a fan of the original or experiencing it for the first time.

‘Funny Girl’ is playing at Sutton Arts Theatre from 23rd June to 1st July 2023.