Marilyn Cutts is playing Mrs Brice in Funny Girl which begins previews at the Menier Chocolate Factory tonight (20th November).
Marking the first time Funny Girl has been staged in London since the original production starring Barbra Streisand, the musical’s run at the Menier sold out within hours, breaking box office records and becoming the theatre's fastest selling production.
Funny Girl, which is directed by Michael Mayer with choreography by Lynne Page, will transfer to the West End’s Savoy Theatre next year. Marilyn stars alongside Sheridan Smith who, in a return to musical theatre, takes on the role of Fanny Brice.
A founding member of Fascinating Aida, most recently Marilyn recreated the role of Madame Morrible in the first UK & Ireland tour of Wicked after starring as Mother Lord in the UK tour of High Society.
Just a few of Marilyn’s extensive theatre credits include: Jack's Mother in Into The Woods (Regent’s Park), Babs Sherwood in Never Forget (Savoy), Armina in Oklahoma! & Teresa in The Rose Tattoo (both National Theatre), Mme de Rosemonde in Les Liaisons Dangereuses (Sadler’s Wells/Japanese tour), Vi Moore in Footloose & Mrs Potts in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast (both UK tours), Doormouse and White Queen in Alice In Wonderland (RSC), Mrs Sowerberry in Oliver! (London Palladium/Toronto), Mrs Lovett in Sweeney Tod (Bristol Old Vic) and Show Boat (London Palladium). In addition she appeared in Tom Hooper’s film adaptation of Les Misérables (Working Title).
I recently spoke to Marilyn about why Funny Girl prevented her from retiring, how it feels to be part of such a highly anticipated sold out show and what audiences can expect from this new production…
One of the reasons everybody is so excited about this production is because Funny Girl hasn’t been done in London since 1966. Were you familiar with the show? Had you seen the film?
I had seen the film when I was a kid but that is pretty much it. The show has legendary status because it isn’t done that often – I think the last time was down in Chichester with Samantha Spiro.
So what did you think when you heard it was being produced at the Chocolate Factory? Did you immediately think ‘I want to be part of this’?
Well actually I was thinking of retiring [laughs] and then the offer came through. I had settled myself down happily and signed up to do an open university degree in History because I had been on the road for two and a half years solid touring with High Society and then with Wicked. I needed to spend some time at home because of family commitments, and then this offer came though and I thought ‘That is just perfect’! It’s a wonderful part and means I get to work with Sheridan Smith, who I’ve worked with before but not in a public capacity. It was just too good to say no to! I mean, who wouldn’t want to do it? I couldn’t say “No, but thank you very much for asking!” [laughs].
As you said, the show does have legendary status – the Menier run sold out within hours of tickets going on sale! How did it feel going into rehearsals for such a highly anticipated show? It must be incredibly exciting but at the same time there’s extra pressure!
Well you want to live up to people’s expectations, but then one always wants to do that – there are just higher expectations. Sheridan has her own mystique and one wants to do the very best you can to support her because the pressure is ultimately on her. As Michael (Mayer) our director has said, you can’t do this show without having the right Fanny Brice. You get the star first and then you say “We’ll do the show”. You can’t decide to do the show and then cast it. I want to do the best for her so she can shine! The pressure is on her. She’s nowhere near me when I’m saying this because the last thing I would want to do is add to her pressure [laughs]!
So you’re playing Mrs Brice…
…I’m playing her mum!
Have you enjoyed taking the character on?
It has been enormous fun! She is a real character with lots of comedy, but also what is interesting is that the real Mrs Brice was separated from her husband; apparently in real life Mr Brice was allowed to visit about once a week. He too was a bit feckless from what I can gather. What’s interesting is that – they added a few lines the other week to clarify this – in the mother and daughter relationship I can see my daughter repeating my mistakes. It’s much more than ‘my daughter is going to be a star’, because she thinks ‘can my daughter have it all?’ – she thinks about how she managed to have a family and a career to support her family. It’s very interesting to have all that texture and history which you can bring to that relationship. It gives it more perspective and more depth than Mrs Brice just thinking ‘isn’t my daughter wonderful’. She’s incredibly proud of her daughter, but also worried she is going to repeat her own mistakes.
The cast of Funny Girl in rehearsals
Harvey Fierstein joined the creative team to make some big re-writes to the script, do you think it feels quite fresh?
After we’d had quite a few new versions they started printing bits out on coloured paper so we could keep them separate – I have a rainbow script! It is a two way street because there was one scene they had hacked and Sheridan and I said “we think you’ve thrown out the baby with the bathwater” because there were things we needed to use in that scene as a springboard into the next song and they listened to that. They are not remotely authoritarian, they are very open and wanting to make it right and organic. What we loved was reinstated, and then extra fantastic stuff was added in. It’s not the first show I’ve worked on where we’ve had a rather dated book which was needing an overhaul. You can see it in films, audiences are much quicker – they pick things up and don’t need the get it, got it, good of the old vaudeville. I think it’s wonderful when creative teams respond to that and make the book a bit quicker, slicker and more suited to contemporary audiences without losing the period flavour. It’s a hard thing to do, but they really are a very sensitive team to getting all the nuances.
What has the overall atmosphere been like in rehearsals?
Joyous! We laugh a lot! There is definitely a buzz and as the days have counted down to the very first show the adrenaline has been going up [laughs]. It’s excitement too, I think we have something very special and we all want to make sure it is ready to be unveiled. As the excitement builds I feel a bit like ‘gobysffasfhjadgn’, but the others are probably far more mature in their approach [laughs]. There is wonderful choreography as well! Some of it is so big I think ‘how can we do that on a stage so small’! There are some really spectacular big numbers as well as some great tapping and some things which will have everyone, especially the dancers in the audience, just gasping. It makes me gasp anyway!
What do you think people who know very little about the show can expect? What will they go through?
**be warned – spoiler alert**
Well, it is in many ways a backstage musical because it is the story of a unique talent. It differs from the film and will be a more interesting journey for the audience. The film ended with Fanny Brice singing ‘Oh, my man, I love him so’ which was not in the original score. In this she has a relationship and marries Nick Arnstein and they have a child which is what happened in real life. But in real life Fanny Brice married again after splitting up with Nick Arnstein and her career continued into the sixties.
In this we show her making a unique career as a comedian with Ziegfeld Follies, getting married and, if you like, ‘having it all’ with the sacrifices that had to be made. When it doesn’t work out – there’s that immortal line “I guess we didn’t make it” in ‘Don’t Rain On My Parade’ – she then goes through that to say “Right, nobody is going to rain on my parade and I will carry on leading my life the best I can doing what I’m good at”. Instead of ending on a sobbing ‘I’m going to stand by my man whatever’ it opens up the door to what happened next in her life.
It will be an interesting and entertaining journey and also a sad journey but with a very positive outcome. It’s to do with the debate of ‘Can women have it all?’ but also there is a debate in the musical about what is a man’s position if he fails his family financially. That is the argument Mrs Brice takes back to Fanny.
How are you feeling about going from performing in some of the biggest theatres around the UK in Wicked to playing the Menier Chocolate Factory which is so intimate?
I’ll have to lose weight.
Don’t say that!
[cackles] It means that you can do other things. You can be much more subtle. Because the reaction time to the back of the house is about one nanosecond here, the dialogue can be really quick and pacey. That’s what you need with these characters! The show will change slightly when it moves to the Savoy – which I have played before – and that will be an interesting journey, but at the moment we’re just thinking about opening here first!
You are fresh out of the Wicked bubble! How does it feel to look back at your two years as Madame Morrible?
It was very exciting. The production values in Wicked are so sensationally high, it is a privilege to wear those costumes. All the backstage people – the wig and wardrobe departments – maintained the look of the show to an incredibly high level. There’s nothing quite like going out onstage knowing you are potentially going to give at least one person in the audience the best night of their life. I remember I was doing Show Boat twenty years ago at the Palladium and one woman, an old lady, said “that was the best night of my life”. That is very special! I think if you can go out, as one did with Wicked, and know what you are doing is really going to mean something to one person, then that is a real gift and an absolute joy. I think it is going to be the same with this show, I think it’s going to resonate with a lot of people. If we can do that and give them this amazing gift then we will have done our job.
Interviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)
Funny Girl opens at the Menier Chocolate Factory on 2nd December 2015 (previews from 20th November) and runs until 5th March 2016.
Photo Credit 2: Marc Brenner
Photo Credit 3: Matt Crockett