THEY – whomever “they” are, although the quote is widely attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt – say do something every day that scares you. That’s a bit extreme; a more moderate and achievable goal is to try new things as often as possible.
And so it came to pass, after many years of theatre opening nights, I took myself on a solo date towards the end of a run, for a Sunday matinée performance of Funny Girl at The Fugard Theatre. The semi-biographical musical is based on the life and career of Broadway star, actress and comedienne Fanny Brice, and was the role that catapulted Barbra Streisand to fame in 1964 stage production followed by a reprisal in the 1968 film in which she starred opposite Omar Sharif.
There had recently been some satellite life events relating to Funny Girl – finding the movie soundtrack in a second hand record store, which was a gift for a dear friend, a conversation with well-known actress who related Fanny’s story to me in the distinctive New York accent, and my personal burlesque interest in the Ziegfeld Follies – which, along with glowing reviews, encouraged me to see the show.
Funny Girl features some of the most iconic songs in film and theatre history, including “People” and “Don’t Rain On My Parade” as it tells Brice’s bitter-sweet story of how she muscled her way into Broadway superstardom, and her relationship with gambler Nick Arnstein.
It was an afternoon well-spent (despite there being no doughnuts at the theatre coffee bar). Naledi nominee Ashleigh Harvey (Death of a Colonialist, Bash) takes the title role alongside Clyde Berning (The Great Gatsby, Hamlet, Strangers on a Train) as Arnstein. They have a strong supporting cast in the form of Kate Normington (Sister Act, Mamma Mia!) as Mrs Brice, Diane Wilson (Shirley Valentine, Grace and Glorie) as Mrs Strakosh, and Michèle Maxwell (Cabaret, Death of a Salesman) as Mrs Meeker. Mike Huff (Cabaret, Singin’ in the Rain) plays Florenz Ziegfeld, Cameron Botha (West Side Story, Sweeney Todd) plays Eddie Ryan, Grant Towers (The Sound of Music) plays Tom Keeney and Lucy Tops (The Rocky Horror Show) plays Emma.
Directed by Matthew Wild with musical direction by Charl-Johan Lingenfelder and choreography by Louisa Talbot, this Funny Girl is a visual delight; Birrie Le Roux’s costumes are utterly gorgeous, offset against Saul Radomsky’s simple yet effective set design. Harvey’s powerful vocal range fills the theatre, and if all we can ask from a musical or a play is to be transported and engaged for a couple of hours, Funny Girl delivers on that. So much so that I was completely unprepared for the ending.
Funny Girl runs until June 11. Shows Tuesday to Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 4pm and 8pm, and Sunday at 4pm. Tickets R130-R350. The Fugard Theatre is in Caledon Street, Cape Town. Book online through Computicket, at the theatre or by calling the box office on 021 461 4554.