Tuesday, 1 December 2015

INTERVIEW - Darius Campbell, in Funny Girl, Menier Chocolate Factory

Sheridan Smith as Fanny Brice and Darius Campbell as Nick Arnstein

DARIUS Campbell first sprung to fame on talent show Pop Idol in 2002. Although he didn't win the competition, it did lead to a successful music career.
His first single, Colourblind, went to number one in the singles chart and his debut album Dive In went platinum in 2004.
Since then he has continued to write and perform but has also branched out into musical theatre performing in the West End and on tour with roles in Chicago, Guys and Dolls, Carmen, Gone With The Wind and From Here to Eternity.
Not only that he's also a film producer working alongside actors such as Daniel Radcliffe.
The 35-year-old is now taking on what he describes as an “actor’s dream role”, that of Nick Arnstein in director Michael Mayer's production of Funny Girl.
It is based on the real life story of Fanny Brice who, during the early part of the 20th century, rose from the Lower East Side of New York as a Brooklyn saloon singer, to become one of Broadway's biggest stars under producer Florenz Ziegfeld.
However, while she was cheered onstage as a great comedienne, offstage she faced a doomed relationship with the man she loved - Nick Arnstein.
Arnstein, played by Darius, was the love of her life but was far from a good boy.
“He was a gambler,” laughs Darius. “He came from the wrong side of the tracks and worked hard to create an identity with which people were charmed by.
"But he was a conman and an irredeemable one at that. He played cards, bet on the horses and eventually got involved in a Wall Street bond scams and got sent to prison.
"However, Fanny stayed true to him and this piece is about their incredible love story."
We chat as Darius gears up for the show which opened this week at the Menier Chocolate Factory and features a score by Jule Styne and Bob Merrill which includes now-classic songs such as People, You Are Woman, I Am Man and Don't Rain on My Parade.
Even before it opened at the Menier it was lined up for a West End transfer, something that Darius is understandably delighted about.
“It’s fantastic and I'm delighted to be part of it,” he enthuses. “It’s such a great musical with a story that's still relevant and that everyone can identify with.
“As well as being beautifully written it's got wonderful music and fantastic songs – the characterisation is superb – and I get to work with Sheridan Smith so what’s not to love.
"Also Nick is a role I’ve always had on my wish list. So when I heard that it might be happening I really wanted to do it.
“He’s dashing, I get to wear top hat and tails and I sing some fabulous numbers.
"But he's also a complex character – there are a lot of layers to him so he’s a great role – it’s much more interesting to play those kinds of characters.
"Irrespective of the things he did wrong this was the woman he would have done anything for. I couldn't turn it down.”
And he says it’s more than living up to expectations although he admits to a certain amount of nerves not least because the Broadway version skyrocketed Barbara Streisand to stardom and the film adaptation earned her an Oscar. Not only that comparisons with Omar Sharif who played Nick in the film will be inevitable.
"It hasn't been done in London since its premiere in 1966 so there is a bit of pressure and a lot of responsibility," he says.
"I suppose the reason it's not been done for such a long time is that people don't want to be compared to Streisand or Sharif.
"However it's been a brilliant experience. I’ve learned so much from Sheridan and it’s amazing to work with her and I'm sure audiences will fall in love with her and her portrayal.
“The film that was done was iconic and so that adds to the pressure but we are all really excited and bringing it to a new audience will be fantastic - that's the joy of it.
"There is a wonderful innocence, wit and knowingness about it and it’s a story that’s as much Shakespeare as Kardashian."
That Darius has ended up in the entertainment industry was no surprise as he says it was something he always wanted to do but he credits his father with his work ethic.
"I remember aged four singing and acting in the school play and knew it was something I wanted to do," he says. "Since then it's been about finding a way to do it.
"The guiding principle was laid down by my father who said to always give my best, work with the best people in the business, to learn from them and ask them to teach and direct me. That's been my guide for everything I've done.
"It means everything I've done I've enjoyed - it's all been a highlight - whether it's the first single being number one or working with Steve Lillywhite or directors such as Trevor Nunn and Tim Rice - in fact they inspired me to get into this way of storytelling."
So what next I ask? There is mention of a new album and another film to be produced but Darius says his main focus is Funny Girl.
"I concentrate on the now - being Nick Arnstein and being the best leading man for Sheridan Smith I can be," he says.

Funny Girl is on at the Menier Chocolate Factory, Southwark Street, until March 5. Visit www.menierchocolatefactory.com or call the box office on 020 7378 1713 for full listings.

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