Ok, let’s start the top – Sheridan Smith…. Wow, just wow. What a performance she gives as Fanny Brice, the plucky comedienne whose success on the stage masks her rollercoaster relationship with debonair businessman (and con-artist) Nick Arnstein (Darius Campbell).
Sheridan has it all – and she gives it all in a performance that showcases not just her ridiculously perfect comic timing, but also a deft dramatic touch and a powerful singing voice.
Is there anything this woman cannot do???
Whether it’s playing for laughs her diminutive height versus the Amazonian showgirls of the Ziegfeld Follies, belting out the iconic Don’t Rain on My Parade as she chases her lover across the continents, or drying her own tears in the lonely solitude of her backstage dressing room, there’s no taking your eyes off Sheridan.
She is just luminous. Funny Girl may not be the greatest musical ever, but Sheridan infuses the show with so much energy and spirit that this revival just sweeps you up.
Certainly that energy makes up for a few flaws here and there. Darius Campbell certainly looks the part as the suave and sophisticated Nick. He’s dashing and handsome but the nuances and depth aren’t quite there to really convince that this playboy was madly in love with Fanny, nor that his masculinity was too fragile to withstand Fanny’s success.
Marilyn Cutts, Valda Aviks and Gay Soper, though, are a delight as Fanny’s mother and her two closest friends. They are earthy and warm, a perfect counterpoint to the shallow starriness of the showbiz world.
Huge praise must also go to the supporting cast of dancers who work their feet to the bone throughout the show. They shine, they really do.
Funny Girl may always be seen as a poor man’s Gypsy (Jule Styne at the musical helm for both). After all, it doesn’t have anywhere near the same dramatic hit, nor are its songs as wonderful. But there is something in its subject matter of that tension that comes from a woman’s success that still resonates with us today, fifty years after the musical debuted.
This show may not make you sad, and it certainly won’t make you cry, but it will make you laugh and smile. Director Michael Mayer has shaped a terrific production with a strong cast and a stunningly impressive leading lady.
There almost isn’t a hope in hell of getting a ticket for the remainder of the run at Menier Chocolate Factory. However the production is transferring to the Savoy from April when, no doubt, the scale of the show will increase, though hopefully none of the charm will be lost.
And after that, who knows? Does Broadway beckon for Sheridan Smith? I wouldn’t be surprised if this show and its leading lady makes its way State-side. If she does, Sheridan will unequivocally vanquish any suggestion that only La Streisand could ever play Funny Girl.
Menier Chocolate Factory, London to March 5, 2016
Savoy Theatre, London. April 9 to September 10, 2016
- Funny Girl – Sheridan Smith (Fanny Brice) by Marc Brenner
- Funny Girl – Darius Campbell (Nick Arnstein), Sheridan Smith (Fanny Brice). Photo by Marc Brenner
- Funny Girl – Sheridan Smith (Fanny Brice) and company. Image by Marc Brenner