Parramatta’s Funny Girl
A story of shining success and bittersweet love, Funny Girl is the musical theatre classic that celebrates Broadway’s comedic genius Fanny Brice. Following their inaugural production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee earlier this year, Theatre & Company are venturing into the Broadway classic.
Recent NIDA graduate and musical theatre performer Brittanie Shipway will bring this iconic character to life in Theatre & Company’s upcoming production. Shipway has performed in many musical theatre productions including RPG’s Big Fish (Hayes Theatre Co), Chapel Off Chapel’s Ordinary Days and Neglected Musicals’ Big River. We sat down with Brittanie to discuss her experience and thoughts on Funny Girl.
Fanny Brice is such an iconic character, how have you found it portraying her?
It’s definitely the most difficult character I’ve ever tackled. It’s such a daunting role, not merely because of the size of the show, or even the huge vocal requirements, but being compared to the incomparable Barbra Streisand is terrifying. I had to put that fear aside right away and just get stuck into it, and I think I’ve found my own version of Fanny Brice; she’s tough but sensitive, silly yet serious, dramatic and small, all at once. I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to play such a marvellous, well-written character.
Have you found any difficulties in portraying this character - bringing her to life?
Words, words, words. Why oh why are there so many words to learn in this show? When I first booked the job, I thought ‘hey, this’ll be a bit of fun’. Then I went and saw some of my friends play Fanny Brice in the Sydney Opera House production; they had 14 different Fannys over the course of the show, and after watching it, I could see why. Each and every song is so mammoth and vocally and emotionally draining. And somehow one person has to play that role? Ha! Good luck to me…
What about the similarities between you and Fanny? Have you discovered any parallels between herself and your character?
I tend to make fun of my own insecurities; if I do it first then I’m safe right? RIGHT?! I think Fanny’s character in the show tends to do that, but she takes complete advantage of it. She’s much more resilient than I am; hopefully I can take a bit of that with me…
After all these years, why do you believe that Funny Girl still resonates with audiences?
In a lot of ways, I think Barbra Streisand’s version of this role became more iconic than Fanny Brice herself. The show is also filled with songs that everybody knows – “People”, “Don’t Rain On My Parade”, “I’m The Greatest Star”… There’s so many classics! What I’ve really loved in this process is discovering some of the lesser known numbers. “Who Are You Now” is my favourite; it’s not a big vocal sing, it’s just simple, vulnerable and human.
At the heart of this story is a young woman who does whatever it takes to achieve success, and then nearly gives it all up for a guy. I think so many of us work hard on one aspect of our lives (our careers, finances, friendships), but then in relationships we let our standards slide; because no matter how tough you are, people are vulnerable and want to be loved. Which incidentally is what “People” is all about!
Now, in terms of your personal process of developing the role, how have you found juggling the line of staying true to the iconic role and creating a three-dimensional character without merely being a Streisand impersonator? Have you found it difficult? Or have you been able to use Streisand’s portrayal to aid you you in your performance?
I stayed well clear of Barbra Streisand! Which is not an easy task, because I adore her and think she’s the bee’s knees. Our fabulous music director Craig has also made sure I sing the songs as written, as opposed to the ‘Barbrafied’ version of things. Because the idea of attempting to copy Babs is terrifying. I’d much rather do my own version of the role, so I’ve spent quite a bit of time looking at footage of the actual Fanny Brice. She was an incredibly funny woman, and ahead of her time. She never tried to be ‘pretty’, and she was the master of voice work and larger than life characters like Baby Snooks. It’s been an awesome experience bringing her to life.
When we think of Funny Girl, it’s hard to not think about Barbra Streisand’s iconic portrayal of the role. The show demands a stunning comedienne, a fabulous singer, and a skilled actress (like yourself). Why do you think Streisand’s performance was so revered?
Everyone thinks of Babs as a great singer, (and she is!), but she’s actually one of my favourite actresses of all time. The way she treats the little moments in film is just beautiful. I also think a Jewish comedic singer playing a Jewish comedic singer always helps; Barbra related to the role in a way that nobody else could. She originated the role on Broadway when she was 19, and when they made the film they tossed the idea about of giving the role to Shirley MacLaine. But the producer Ray Stark (who was incidentally the real Fanny Brice’s son-in-law) to give the rights to the film if Barbra wasn’t the leading lady. And then a star was born (yes, that was a cheeky reference).
How have you found your experience working with the team of Theatre & Company and the cast and crew?
Everyone is so ridiculously talented! Adam (Director), Craig (Music Director) and Mel (Choreographer) are all incredible in their own right, and they’re creating a show I wish I could see as well as be in. Our costume designer Chris is one of the most talented people I’ve ever met, and the cast are just beyond brilliant (I wish I could dance like that…). I haven’t met the stage crew yet, but I know they’ll fit right into the Fanny clan. (Yes, the double entendres that have been running in the rehearsal room are endless…)
Overall, it’s been a little bit of a different process for me, spreading rehearsals out over the space of a few months, rather than two weeks or less of intense rehearsals. So I’ve been allowed to enjoy the process a little more, which has been great. Everyone brings such a great vibe to the room; they really do love musical theatre, and they put everything they have into it. I’m really lucky to be sharing the stage (and backstage) with some incredible human beings. I think people are going to love the show. And if not? Ain’t nobody gonna rain on my parade!
Venue: Riverside Theatres, Parramatta
Dates: 28th September – 6th October
Price: $30 - $49