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Funny Girl

Lancaster Red Rose AODS
Lancaster Grand Theatre

produced by Kathleen B. Kenyon and Val Goulding
Friday 14 March 2008

Nicky (Geoff Houghton) and Fanny (Vanessa Whittle)

Funny Girl is an ambitious choice for an Amateur and Operatic Dramatic Society, given the famous 1968 film version starring Barbra Streisand and Omar Sharif. It’s also psychologically more complex than most musicals, being loosely based on a real life story – that of Jewish comedienne Fanny Brice (1891 – 1951) and her relationship with gambler and entrepreneur Nicky Arnstein. But, despite (or because of) its artistic and dramatic challenges, Lancaster Red Rose give Funny Girl the treatment it deserves.

There are some good lines in this musical, and the actors do not squander them. This production also really goes to town with the dancing (Paul Knowles does a good Eddie, the Dance Director), costumes and scene changes – though if there’s a criticism here. it’s probably that there were perhaps too many changes, ‘slick’ links between scenes becoming ‘rushed’ at times, so that an embrace lasts for a hasty couple of seconds before the actors are replaced by the scene-changers.

Funny Girl tells the story of how Fanny (Vanessa Whittle) leaves her newly successful career in the theatre to follow Nicky (Geoff Houghton - both pictured above). She manages to get away with it – they marry, have a daughter, and she returns to the stage. So far so good – well into the second Act. It is when Fanny tries to help Nicky financially, to the point of arranging a job for him behind his back, that things start to go badly wrong. Nicky’s ego – one has to say male ego – just will not let him not be the ‘man of the house’.

This is a problem when he loves someone with an earning potential as good as Fanny’s and when his own earning potential is distinctly flakey. (As Fanny’s mother tells her, but pointlessly, “Help him to be a man like other men.”) So, when Nicky comes out of prison (18 months for fraud) he tells Fanny their marriage is over (“we were just bad casting”, as Fanny responds, ironically).

Nicky is the loser, of course, and she the survivor, and it is hard for us to imagine that her life would have been better had they stayed together, despite the fact that this what she had been hoping and planning for.

All this is a challenge for the actors playing Fanny and Nicky, but Vanessa Whittle and Geoff Houghton do not disappoint. Geoff Houghton (who Grand regulars will remember from The Boyfriend and Calamity Jane) does a great Nicky, balancing suaveness and charm with a measure of the louche and reckless, and Vanessa Whittle (also in The Boyfriend) does full justice to what is probably this show’s best song, ‘Don’t rain on my parade’). She looks the part, and her facial expressions are excellent.

Vanessa Whittle and Geoff Houghton also manage to achieve that sort of electricity between lovers-to-be (and indeed between husband-and-wife) that professional actors do not always manage to bring off. Their dinner in Baltimore in a private dining room featuring a chaise longue is a delight. In contrast, some of the other scenes not featuring the couple seemed rather slow, though benefitted hugely from the diminutive but wonderfully assertive Mrs Strakosh (Maureen Elliot).

All in all, it was a good evening out, and one which got better as the plot developed and gathered momentum. (And I’m delighted that the Grand now serves fresh milk with their interval coffee.)

Jane Sunderland © March 2008

Saturday March 15, 7.15 p.m., £8.50.

Box office 01524 64695

Useful links

On Fanny Brice

www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/biography/brice.html

www.youtube.com/watch?v=qBVLsRBOlXI

Original 1968 film version of Funny Girl

www.imdb.com/title/tt0062994/

Film reviews

http://uk.rottentomatoes.com/m/funny_girl/

 

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