Left – Caroline O'Connor. Cover – Caroline O'Connor and David Hobson. Photos – Jeff Busby
Funny Girl was first produced by The Production Company in their inaugural season in 1999. Travelling full circle, the company has revived the show, and managed to lure back their original star, Caroline O'Connor.
Over 50 years since it's first outing on Broadway, Funny Girl is the bio-musical, celebrating the career of one of the most successful performers of American vaudeville, Fanny Brice.
The musical adaptation begins with 19 year-old Fanny performing in Keeney's Music Hall when she is discovered by legendary producer Florenz Ziegfeld, who turns her into a star in his Follies. Marrying gambler Nick Arnstein, the story follows their relationship until its inevitable break-up.
Funny Girl presents a great opportunity for the actor playing the title role, but as a biography, lacks the necessary spark to make it as a great musical work, in the way that Gypsy did. However, the music of Jule Styne alongside Bob Merrill's lyrics carry it across the line as far as entertainment in the big classic Broadway style is concerned. Their collaboration here gave countless performers at least two hits that continue to be heard and recorded – People and Don't Rain on my Parade.
This production has a lot to savour, especially for those die-hard musical lovers. Tim Chappel and Owen Phillips have created some stunning costumes, with big bold colours, especially in the early scenes, and more detailed designs as the periods change. Kelley Abbey does a superb job choreographing the musical numbers, where the ensemble blend beautifully together.
For the first time we get to experience the newly created Production Company Orchestra, who look and sound fantastic onstage, expertly led by musical director Anthony Gabriele. These musicians are a show highlight in their own right.
Director Gale Edwards has brought the ingredients together, in a more than capable fashion, considering the limited rehearsal period these shows enjoy. She stages the action well and extracts broad, but balanced performances from her cast.
A company of seasoned professionals rise to the demands of their roles, with David Hobson (Nick Arnstein) and Nancye Hayes (Mrs Brice) leading the way. Luke Alleva (Eddie Ryan) is a standout, delivering a strong, confident performance.
Of course any production of Funny Girl ultimately rests on the talents of the lead actress. The role catapulted newcomer Barbra Streisand into another hemisphere as well as film stardom. The considerable talents of this Fanny – Caroline O'Connor – have been well documented. Here she shines as always, vocally strong, with a great clown-like comic ability, but always able to bring it down to a breathtaking whisper when required. Hearing her rendition of The Music that makes me Dance towards the finale is sad, beautiful and understated. Yet another stunning performance from this world-class performer.
Special mention must be made of the ongoing contribution of Frank Van Straten and his superb program notes. The Funny Girl program marks his final contribution. Over the years these notes have always been interesting and illuminating, reminding all not only of a show's history, but of the Australian connection. Thank you, sir.
The Production Company presents
music Jule Styne | lyrics Bob Merrill
Director Gale Edwards
Venue: Arts Centre Melbourne
Dates: 23 – 31 July 2016
Tickets: $42 – $130