Days ago, Queen Elizabeth II awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for services to theatre and the arts to Sonia Friedman, the most acclaimed producer of her generation. The daughter of two eminent British musicians, Friedman founded Sonia Friedman Productions in 2002, and has gone on to establish a reputation as the guiding force behind literally hundreds of hits in London, New York and around the world. Winning more Oliviers—the British equivalent of the Tony Awards—than any other producer, she possesses the vision and acumen for bringing together gifted teams—directors, writers, designers and ensembles of actors—that assure success to a wide range of repertory, encompassing the mounting of classic plays like “Othello” or “Death of a Salesman,” as well as staged adaptations of films including “Boeing- Boeing,” “Legally Blonde” and “La Cage Aux Folles,” to groundbreaking new works (“1984,” “King Charles III”) “must sees” which have quickly taken the theatre world by storm.
Friedman’s current productions in the West End are “Bend It Like Beckham,” a musical treatment of the feel-good movie about a girls’ soccer team, and J.K. Rowlings’, “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” which is a sequel to the “Harry Potter” series and the first official staging of a work by the author, is slated for an official opening at the Palace Theatre later this summer. Replete with amazing special effects, but now using puppets instead of the live owl, whose anarchistic behavior created havoc on opening night, the drama naturally attracts legions of devotees who are eager to experience the tribulations of the adult Harry and his son as they conjoin their magic powers to defeat the forces of evil.
Playing at the Savoy Theatre is the first revival of the musical “Funny Girl” since it made its British debut in 1966. Remembered for catapulting the young Barbara Streisand to fame, it now features a new book by American actor and playwright Harvey Fierstein, but happily retains Jule Styne’s dynamic score, including the music for show stoppers such as “People” and “Don’t Rain on My Parade”
The story of “Funny Girl” was inspired by the life and career of Fanny Brice (1891-1951), a singer and comedian born to Lower East Side immigrants, who rose to fame as a Jazz Age star and frequent headliner of the Ziegfeld Follies. Numbers which she popularized during her heyday included “My Man,” an American version of a French torch song whose lyrics proclaimed a street waif’s devotion to her boyfriend, a faithless and violent pimp, as well as the wistful lament “Second Hand Rose,” and the whimsical and sunny “I’m Cooking Breakfast for the One I Love.” Characteristically resorting to the stylized Yiddish inflection that was at the time was considered funny by both Jewish and non-Jewish audiences, she lampooned the contortions of a snooty Russian ballerina in “It’s Gorgeous to Be Graceful” and fused Native American ethnicity with that of her own Lower East Side persona in “Look at Me, I’m an Indian.” On radio and then on television, she starred as Baby Snooks, a snarky little girl whose sarcastic comments delighted fans nationwide. Using tricks which often bordered on blackmail, Snooks always got the better of her long suffering and harried dad.
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