I had high expectations for this play written by Roy Smiles, directed by Michael Strassen and starring Mia Tomlinson as Joan Rivers and Rosanna Harris as Barbra Streisand, and I was not disappointed.
As the play opens, the year is 1959 and Rivers and Streisand are a couple of struggling actors performing in a lousy play trying to break into show business. Rivers has an agent coming to see her; this could be her big break and Streisand is terrified that because her dominating mother will be in the audience her dreams will be shattered. She wants to be an actress not a singer which she does to make a few bucks to put food in her mouth. The irony is not lost with this play. Then forward ten years to 1969, Babs is now a huge star and Joan the stand-in host on the Johnny Carson show. This is the story of how they got to be famous, and a terrific one it is.
With actual voice recordings of the two being played over the theatre’s sound system, the mood and atmosphere is beautifully staged as both Tomlinson and Harris deliver true interpretations of these two formidable stars. They are both OTT, all the Jewish mannerism are there – the hand gestures, the look to the heavens for inspiration – and this is so accurate. They both give dutiful and respectful performances, totally captivating and fabulous. The message here is that you must believe in yourself and with that you will be destined for greatness.
Smiles has put the right amount of focus into this play especially in Act 1 before their careers exploded, and in Act 2 we experience the grandeur of the two stars and their competitive nature which is played for laughs, as well as a true emotional connection, underlining the fact that deep down the two woman had each other’s backs.
Woven into the dialogue we get some information about their private lives: Rivers’ first husband she married because that was the done thing and Barbra’s marriage to Elliot Gould, the maverick actor. The speed of the play is rapid which makes it exhilarating theatre. The Funny Girls looks at the myths and legends that surround Rivers and Streisand and as a play about a war of egos, the story has never been more wonderfully presented. As the play ends we hear Rivers’ distinctive voice talk about her friend; a very nice touch.
Photos by Mark Senior