Sometimes even a hit musical becomes forgotten, and it takes a high scale revival to remind audiences just how much of a gem it was. That may certainly be the case for the Jule Styne musical Funny Girl, which originally ran on Broadway between 26 March 1964 and 1 July 1967, opening at the Winter Garden Theatre before transferring to the Majestic and The Broadway Theatre, clocking up 1,348 performances.
Funny Girl may seem to be an odd choice for a forgotten musical as it remains in the wider public psyche thanks to the film version which also starred Barbra Streisand in the lead role of Fanny Brice. It's remarkable then to think that the show hasn't had a full scale stage revival ever on either Broadway or the West End - and the first of which is set to originate at the Menier Chocolate Factory later this year.
Directed by Tony Award-winner Michael Mayer, the production seems to already have its sights firmly set on a West End transfer and beyond. Tickets for the Menier run sold out within two hours (although we happen to have a number of tickets available as part of a theatre breaks package), proving that audiences are certainly thirsty to see the musical live on stage. Whilst many have grown up watching the iconic film, a whole generation have missed out the chance of seeing the show in its full glory - and demand for the show on both sides of the Atlantic is certainly considerable.
The 1964 season was iconic in many ways, and pitted two huge musicals against each other at the Tony Awards. David Merrick's Hello, Dolly! (which would later be associated with Streisand thanks to the film version) led the way in all categories, leaving Funny Girl with eight nominations and not a single win. Up against two other popular new musicals High Spirits, a musical version of Noel Coward's 'Blithe Spirit', and She Loves Me, Bock and Harnick's charming musical based on the play 'Parfumerie' by Hungarian playwright Miklos Laszlo. Thrown into the mix was Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt's 110 in the Shade, meaning the season was a particularly strong one for shows that would go on to define a decade.
She Loves Me has enjoyed numerous revivals, and is set once again to grace Broadway in an anniversary production by the Roundabout Theatre Company, who also produced a revival of 110 in the Shade starring Audra McDonald in 2007. Hello, Dolly! has again enjoyed numerous revivals on both Broadway and in the West End, leaving Funny Girl as the awkward outsider.
Perhaps the show suffered by being too attached to Barbra Streisand - producers have been searching for a star with similar weight for many years to take on the role. Rumours of Lea Michelle, Lauren Ambrose etc. have been circulating for years, and it was hoped that Bart Sher would helm a new production following on from his reinvention of classic American musicals such as South Pacific and The King and I. The Menier Chocolate Factory has an impressive record of producing high quality musical revivals - and it is soon to be represented on Broadway with its production of The Color Purple which was directed by John Doyle. Previous productions of A Little Night Music, La Cage aux Folles and Sunday in the Park With George have also transferred to Broadway, via the West End, making the transition highly possible for future productions.
Anyone who has recently enjoyed the Chichester Festival Theatre's production of Gypsy at the Savoy Theatre will appreciate the musicianship of Jule Styne. His knack for writing a catchy hook and developing it into a full song is remarkable, and both the Overtures for Gypsyand Funny Girl are among the greatest and most recognisable in the Broadway canon. The song "People", which is now synonymous with original star Barbra Streisand and considered her trademark song has been recorded by artists such as Dionne Warwick, Aretha Franklin, Nat King Cole, Perry Como and The Supremes. The song itself was so popular by the time the show opened, that audiences applauded it during the Overture.