Music: Julie Styne
Lyrics: Bob Merrill
Book: Isobel Lennart
Revised Book: Harvey Fierstein
Director: Michael Mayer
Reviewer: John Roberts
Sheridan Smith is a performer who, over the past few years, has had her own demons to quash and battled regularly with press intrusion, so it is no surprise that she brings real weight and gravitas to the role of Fanny Brice. Here is a performer that wears her heart on her sleeve, who isn’t afraid to push herself to give a sensational performance and that is just what you get with Funny Girl, not only from Smith herself but from the rest of the cast and indeed production.
Michael Mayer’s critically acclaimed production sold out its initial run at South London’s premier fringe venue the Menier Chocolate Factory and later transferred to the Savoy Theatre in the heart of the West End. While Funny Girl – a musical about the young Fanny Brice, a Jewish comedian who went big as part of the Ziegfeld Follies troupe seems a strange choice for revival, one can’t help but applaud the decision as this production has class stamped all over it and it possibly one of the best musical productions currently on show anywhere in the UK.
As Chris Walker’s luscious orchestrations fill the Empire Auditorium with ease (this is no simple feat) an 11 piece orchestra delivers with richness aplenty under the musical baton of Ben Van Tienen. Michael Mayer’s decision to keep things simple is a beautiful directorial decision, this is a show about a performer and her performances and Michael Pavelka’s understated but beautifully mirrored set with its skewed perspectives lends itself perfectly for making the performances the main focus. Likewise, Mark Henderson’s colourful lighting design has an air of elegance about it that transforms the empire and making it feel so intimate and close.
As previously mentioned this is Smith’s show and she goes full pelt, her rendition of Don’t Rain On My Parade may lack the attack that Streisand brought to the song, but what she lacks in bite, she more than makes up for in interpretation and soul. Smith is fast becoming one of our strongest actors in the UK and if she continues choosing roles on both stage, TV and Film that continue to push and challenge her then she has a rich future lying ahead of her. Chris Peluso gives a pleasingly rich and devious portrayal of Nick Arnstein, full of charisma in Act One, but full of spite and hate in Act Two. Rachel Izen is a delight as Fanny’s mum Mrs Brice and alongside Joshua Lay’s warm and charming performance as the “guy in the wings” Eddie Ryan they lend Smith some sterling support.
Funny Girl deserves the rapturous and generous standing ovation received on press night, here is a production where words can not fully translate the sheer joy of watching the production but don’t just take this reviewer’s word for it, see the show for yourself and see Smith produce the performance of her career.
Runs until 11 March 2017 | Image: Johann Persson