Darius Campbell on returning to Funny Girl at Norwich Theatre Royal
- Credit: Paul Coltas
Former Pop Idol wannabe turned West End leading man Darius Campbell is reprising his role in hit musical Funny Girl at Norwich Theatre Royal. He tells us why it's a dream role, how he got to tease his dad and affection for his TV talent show days.
Stepping into the role of Nick Arnstein in the musical Funny Girl, a part made famous on screen by Omar Sharif, has been a both a dream role for Darius Campbell as well as a bonding experience with his father — who bears a striking resemblance to the late actor.
'It's uncanny,' laughs the singer who made his name on TV talent shows Popstars and Pop Idol, before going on to win Popstar to Operastar and carving out a career as a West End leading man. 'It has been something I've been able to tease him about.'
Darius has returned to role for a UK tour which arrives at Norwich Theatre Royal this week after the critically acclaimed and record-breaking sold-out runs of the show at the Menier Chocolate Factory and Savoy Theatre in the West End.
Funny Girl brought global fame to Barbra Streisand 50 years ago and features some of the most iconic songs from film and theatre history, including People and Don't Rain On My Parade. It follows American comedienne Fanny Brice, whose talents see her rise from Brooklyn music hall singer to big time Broadway star under the guidance of Eddie Ryan and Florenz Zieffeld.
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West End leading lady Natasha J Barnes, who was previously understudy for Sheridan in the West End, will be taking on the role of Fanny in Norwich, while Campbell is again playing her husband, professional gambler Nick Arnstein.
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You are reprising the role of Nicky Arnstein which you played in the West End for this tour. It must have been a part you enjoyed playing?
It's been the role of a lifetime. It has been 50 years since Barbra Streisand performed the role on Broadway and it became a classic and one of the most beloved romantic comedies of all time. Then of course the film went on to get Academy Awards nominations. So to take on the role once performed by Omar Sharif is just one that I've been over the moon to portray.
What is it like to follow in the footsteps of such iconic actor?
My father was a big fan Omar Sharif. He actually looked like him and when he was a doctor and involved in inventing the first heart, lung, kidney machine for premature babies the nurses all called him Dr Zhivago. So it was fun to take on this role because I got to tease my dad in that I effectively got to play him. It has been really lovely to share this celebration of being part of something so special and so creatively and critically well received.
You played alongside Sheridan Smith in Funny Girl in the West End and are now touring with the show with Sheridan and Natasha J Barnes alternating in the role of Fanny Brice. What is it like to perform with two such feisty leading ladies?
To perform with two friends is wonderful and to do it with such talented friends is extraordinary. I feel lucky to be sharing the stage with such talents. In the role I'm effectively doing a Nicky Arnstein in that I am alternating between leading ladies.
Do they both bring something different to the role?
They are both completely unique in the way that they approach the role and have a way of lighting up the audience. Sheridan is absolutely deserving of all the success and awards that she has received because she is the most extraordinary actress and a delight to perform with. She is someone that I care for very much and someone with whom we've been through the highs and lows together on and off the stage. Natasha has a wonderful way of bringing a cheeky sense of charm to the role. She is terrific and has a voice that sounds a little like Judy Garland.
What makes Funny Girl so special?
The music, the characters, the story, the dance numbers and the sense of nostalgia — many things. The character of Fanny Brice is one that touches people, that rags to riches, ugly duckling to swan character arc. It also has a great sense of romance and an old school charm. All these things make it into a cocktail that is irresistible. It has also been staged really beautifully by Michael Mayer, the Tony Award-winning director who brought Spring Awakening and American Idiot to life with such a unique vision. He has brought that same incredible eye and deft touch to the stage.
Is this touring production different from the West End production that was so well received?
It has been one that actually believe it or not we've actually improved from the West End. When you get a chance to do the show again there is a chance to tweak certain elements. So the five-star reviews and praise that we've had has been has justified that and I think it has elevated it.
This is the latest of a string of iconic roles you've got to play including Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind and Sky Masterson in Guys and Dolls. What look for in a role?
There are certain things that you can't turn down and this is definitely one of them. This is so beloved and so much fun that I just couldn't say no to it. I've been so lucky when I look back and I've done the roles ones that I love. From the Richard Gere role of Billy Flynn in Chicago, being the youngest performer to take on that , to taking over from Ewan McGregor in Guys and Dolls, to the role of Rhett Butler that Hugh Jackman was going to play in Gone With the Wind, but that when it moved to London, he never got to play because he was filming so I got to play it instead. These are all classic iconic roles, it has been a pit stop rise through matinee idol royalty.
What do you enjoy most about live performance and do you like touring?
Live performance for me is the life blood of a performer's experience. It is the reason we do what we do. To perform something that you care about to an audience of people who are receptive. Being on the road is fun because we get to experience and share with people all over the country. That dovetailing of travel journey and performance together is wonderful and not something I will ever allow myself to take for granted.
You first rose to fame on talent shows Popstars and Pop Idol. Do you look back at that period with affection?
Absolutely. I look back on all the experiences that I've had particularly the ones that have allowed me to be where I am, and I'm very grateful for the public support. To be able to bring songs to the pop charts and subsequently to win Popstar to Operastar and star in the biggest production of an opera ever with Carmen at the O2 with the Royal Philharmonic and 150 performers. Then to be doing the roles that I've had and to work with great directors like Sir Trevor Nunn and heroes of mine like Sir Tim Rice on From Here To Eternity. It has been an absolute privilege.
Popstar to Operastar seemed a surprise move. Why did you want to do that?
My parents had always loved opera and I had been a child performer in Scottish Opera's Trojans and Carmen. And as a young boy when I was 12 I stood on the side of the stage and watched Escamillo, the leading bullfighter from Carmen, sing the toreador song and I remember thinking I want to be him one day. Cut to nearly 20 years later when I was taking on the role at the O2. So the opportunity to appear in Popstar to Operastar and be trained by Rolando Villazón was something I couldn't turn down.
You've recently also branched out into film production as a co-executive producer on the 2016 American thriller Imperium, starring Daniel Radcliffe. How did you get involved?
A group of friends and I put all the elements together to make the film. It proved to be a big success. It was the number one download on iTunes and was a creative hit for Daniel who received some terrific reviews in America for his performance. The success has taken me onto producing Orlando Bloom's next film. I can't reveal too much about it yet but its fun to be part of.
Do you have ambitions to be in a film yourself? Maybe a musical off the back of the success of La La Land?
I love film and when the timing is right I'd love to. I loved La La Land and there is definitely appetite for the kind of uplifting and inspiring musical stories. I'd definitely be interested.
• Funny Girl, Norwich Theatre Royal, runs until July 1, 7.30pm, 2.30pm June 28/July 1, £43.50-£8, 01603 630000, www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk