One Word: SENSATIONAL
With all the glitz and glamour of the press night red carpet service and the huge gathering of TV cameras, photographers and radio journalists awaiting the arrival of numerous celebrity faces, you would be forgiven for thinking that you’d travelled back a few weeks in time and across the Atlantic to the Oscars rather than the opening night of a West End show. But no, this really was the long awaited opening night of the West End transfer of Jule Styne and Bob Merrill’s hit musical FUNNY GIRL, which had recently run with the same cast at the Menier Chocolate Factory with outstanding success. Having seen the production at the Menier only a couple of months beforehand, I was intrigued to see how the great intimate feeling the show emitted in that run would transfer into a much larger venue.
The production depicts the life and career of Broadway star, film actress and comedian Fanny Brice (Sheridan Smith) who, growing up in Brooklyn, dreams of being a star and proving the world wrong about their opinions of her short comings. We follow the ups and down of Fanny’s journey from wannabe to star, via the famous Ziegfeld Follies, and a rocky relationship with ‘Mr Suave’ Nick Arnstein (Darius Campbell).
The cast of this show are extremely well put together, by leading West End Casting Director Pippa Ailion, and the large ensemble of triple threat performers provide fantastic support to the leading cast, playing numerous roles from Ziegfeld dancers to train station porters, and without whom this production would be far from the great success it is sure to become. Ensemble actors and musicians are often unsung heroes of West End productions but this ensemble, supporting cast and orchestra are deservedly due their place in the spotlight. From the very beginning the orchestra, led by Theo Jamieson, provided fantastic musical accompaniment and really set the scene for the upcoming show. An ever present compliment to the actors on stage, the soaring melodies of great songs such as ‘People’, ‘Don’t Rain On My Parade’ and the title track ‘Funny Girl’ really made the hairs on the arms stand up and the excitement grow within the whole auditorium.
There is no doubt, however, that Sheridan Smith is the out and out star of the show and all the press attention has certainly been on her star turn in this production and her suitability for reviving a role first made famous by Barbara Streisand. Smith was simply awesome and once again showed why she is twice an Olivier award winning actress and she can certainly be expecting another nomination for this performance. Her comic timing was impeccable and she showed her great skill for interpreting simple lines of text and making them comical where others would just read it as written. The characterisation of Fanny was extremely thorough, from movement through to the smallest of vocal nuances, and this obvious dedicated research and character work made Smith’s star shine all the brighter. There certainly aren’t any clouds that are going to rain on this lady’s parade!
She hardly put a foot wrong all evening, which is a great juxtaposition to the character she was playing who had two left feet, bar one small error that was well covered when she began to ask the famous Nick Arnstein “Am I someone you should know?”, when the question was meant to be the other way around. This only added to the comedy however and was not out of place as something Brice would actually say. Such is Smith’s obvious connection with this script and character that she could easily claim that it was a written slip up!
Speaking of Nick Arnstein, Darius Campbell was very well cast as the smooth talking, money mad ladies’ man and brought some great moments of realism and sincerity to contrast the quirky personality traits of Brice. Since first coming into the public eye during ITV’s Popstars, Darius has certainly transformed himself well into a West End leading man and this role adds to an impressive list of parts including Billy Flynn in Chicago and Rhett Butler in Sir Trevor Nunn’s Gone with the Wind. Vocally very secure, he provided a polished performance and gave some depth to a role which is unfortunately quite two dimensional and much more a supporting role to the juggernaut part of Fanny.
In one of the most popular and well-loved songs from the show, ‘People’ our protagonist gushes that ‘people who need people are the luckiest people in the world’. Well, I’d like to rephrase this to a lyric that completely sums up my Funny Girl experience: ‘people who see Sheridan Smith shining on stage are the luckiest people in the world’. Judging by the full house standing ovation at the end, I think the gathered press and esteemed celebrities also agree. If you can at all help it, do not miss this show.
Until 8th October
Monday – Saturday 7:30pm
Wednesday and Saturday matinees 2:30pm
£25.00 – £125.00, plus booking fee (no booking fee in person at Box Office)
0844 871 7687