Funny Girl, based on the life of heralded entertainer Fanny Brice, is an iconic and much revered piece of theatrical history. Many will be acquainted with the production in some shape or form, whether familiarity stems from its stage or screen adaption, and its unbreakable connection to the incomparable Barbara Streisand, or even the intense obsession expressed continuously for five seasons by Glee’s Rachel Berry. Either way, it is a shame for avid theatregoers that this show is so scarcely performed, despite its widespread popularity and acclaim. Mountain District Musical Society should be applauded on their commitment to presenting an authentic iteration of this much loved piece.
For a narrative largely focused on reliving memories and reflecting on life, the set design worked well to emphasise the constant influence the past has on us. Different sized photo frames with projected images capturing key moments on the Fanny Brice timeline were often suspended from above, which created a sense of the enduring nature of the past. This is first acknowledged at the beginning of the show as Fanny walks across the stage musing at the images in the frames, setting up their significance for the remainder of the production. For the most part, the synchronisation of the lowering of the frames, the entrance of the projections and the movement of other set pieces was done quite well, with a handful of slip-ups throughout the night which saw props pushed over and images cast on nothing before meeting with the frames. Despite some overheard audience commentary regarding these slips, these were obviously unintended blunders that would surely have been rectified for the remaining shows of the run. In saying this however, it was rather jarring to watch cast walk up on to the stage using stairs from underneath it, as time after time cast continued to have near accidents as they would trip over the bottom of the railing that was placed up on stage. There was white tape surrounding this area, but it is hoped that this was also rectified for the rest of the run. To their credit, any cast that were caught in this situation maintained their utmost professionalism.
Lighting was generally appropriate to the intended mood and theme. At times, missed and late cues were rather obvious. For the most part, lighting did do well to accentuate the exceptionally engaging and appropriate costumes that were showcased throughout the piece. They were intricate and era specific, and designed with such inspiration – particularly the ensemble costuming.
Direction was well-researched and very vision-oriented. Much effort was made to maintain the integrity of the time and place within which this story unfolds, which made for a much more engaging piece. Additionally, a balance between the humour and the heart of Fanny Brice was achieved quite convincingly. Ensemble were utilised very effectively throughout the production and, as a collective, displayed incredible commitment and energy to their various roles. Credit should be given to musical direction for the strong sound from both the cast, and the orchestra alike. The music was beautiful and the cast sounded lovely.
Choreography was varied and often stunning to watch, particularly the tap numbers and pointe sequences. The choreography certainly did well to showcase the evidently diverse and exceptionally solid talents of the cast as a whole.
The ensemble supported a largely strong leading cast who gave very distinct and well-developed performances. Highlights included performances from Liam Kilgour as ‘Eddie Ryan’, Lindy Yeates as ‘Mrs Brice’, Daniel Mottau as ‘Nick Arnstein’ and, of course, Jaclyn DeVincentis as ‘Fanny Brice’.
Kilgour’s Eddie was the right balance of suave and informal with impressive vocals and dance abilities to boot. His performance of ‘Who Taught Her Everything?’, with Yeates, was a hit with the crowd. Yeate’s depiction of Fanny’s mother was captivating and exceptionally consistent. Her characterisation was endearing and provided a solid foundation for the implied upbringing that shaped Fanny for the woman she became.
Mottau portrayed Arnstein with a charisma that invited a rapport between himself and the audience. This allowed for a greater emotional pull as his world began to unravel. His charm and poised demeanour worked exceptionally well to contrast his later characterisation exemplifying his versatility and true understanding of the character’s development.
The most valuable player of the show was, of course, DeVincentis, whose performance of Fanny Brice was everything one would expect from the role (and even more, considering this is community theatre after all). Her professionalism and obvious passion for the role allowed her to truly shine. DeVincentis’ vocals were unwaveringly strong and left the crowd wanting more. Perhaps even more beautiful was her reaction of genuine appreciation to some standing ovations she received as she took her bow. She certainly deserved the reception she was bestowed.
With one weekend of performances to go, it might just be time to tick Funny Girl off your theatregoing bucket list.