Music, Lyrics & Book: Julie Styne, Bob Merrill & Isobel Lennart
Revised Book: Harvey Fierstein
Director: Michael Mayer
Reviewer: David Jobson
What a history this show has. It was only last year that Funny Girl, starring Sheridan Smith, transferred from the Menier Chocolate Factory to the Savoy. A run that was met with setbacks but received heaps of praise, and gave Smith’s understudy, Natasha J. Barnes, the attention that aspiring performers can only dream of.
Now the show is on tour with Smith and Barnes alternating between venues. Say what you will about Smith but there is an enduring vitality about her as she continues to play such a demanding role. A role that people instantly associate with the Barbara Streisand movie.
As the musical’s plot follows the life of the sensational Broadway actress Fanny Brice, Smith’s personality perfectly matches her unwavering eagerness to follow her dreams and become a comic actress. She has dozens of expressions at her disposal and throws herself about the stage with such enthusiasm during numbers such as Cornet Man and His Love Makes Me Beautiful.
Then the musical introduces Fanny Brice’s troubled relationship with gambler Nicky Arnstein. While Smith never misses a chance to inject humour into this plot line, the pace slows resulting in a baggy first act.
This is also where Sheridan Smith’s vocal limitations become apparent. When delivering the big numbers that drive an otherwise meandering story, including Don’t Rain on My Parade, she can easily miss the beat and is just audible over the music. It becomes apparent how challenging it is for Smith to get through a number.
Next to her Darius Campbell gives an assured performance as Nicky Arnstein. Tall and handsome with a deep, sultry voice, he sings with charm and at times sincerity. Otherwise, his acting is limited to standing tall and firm. In a way his performance and Smith’s personality cancel each other out so that they can carry the show with as much charm as they can muster.
There are some good supporting performances, including Rachel Izen as Fanny’s supportive but shrewd Jewish mother, together with Zoe Ann Brown and Myra Sands providing some witty comments as her friends. The dance numbers are a joy to watch thanks to Lynne Page’s choreography, especially Joshua Lay’s solo tap routine as Fanny’s choreographer and hapless lover, Eddie.
Michael Pavelka’s set is a bit static, consisting of mirrored wings onto which images of different settings are reflected, while a few props are brought on by the travellators on the stage. The shortcomings of the set are made up by Mark Henderson’s colourful and creative lighting designs.
Altogether there are enough elements in this production to make this an enjoyable evening for all. The short and emotional second act makes up for the meandering first, but the musical does need a leading performance that can not only deliver the laughs but handle the punchier solo numbers. While Smith has the personality to play the tenacious Fanny Price, supported by the charming Campbell, in the end, she does fall short.
Runs until 27 May 2017 then tour continues | Image: Johann Persson