Following a sell-out season at the Menier Chocolate Factory, Funny Girl has now opened at London’s Savoy Theatre.
Funny Girl is the musical biography of the early life and initial success of Ziegfield star Fanny Brice. The musical with music by Jule Styne and lyrics by Bob Merrill, has a book by Isobel Lennart, which has been revised for this production by Harvey Fierstein.
This is the first time that Funny Girl has been presented in London since 1966. A long enough gap that all but a few remember the original production and many remember the film as something they saw quite a while ago, giving them fresh eyes when it comes to the revival of this classic. It is to the enormous credit of the production team, that they have chosen to create an entirely new look and feel to this classic musical.
Sheridan Smith stars as Broadway legend Fanny Brice. One of the UK’s most beloved stars, Sheridan Smith employs her natural comedic instincts to cast her spell over the audience. It’s impossible to take your eyes off her.
Smith may be small in stature but her presence on stage is enormous. Every cast member in Funny Girl is a star in orbit around Smith’s intense glowing sun. In I’m The Greatest Star, Brice quips that she has thirty-six expressions. I’d go so far as to say Smith has a good deal more.
By ignoring the template set by a certain actress who created the role, Smith makes the part her own and has opened the part up for further re-interpretation in future. No easy feat.
Darius Campbell manages to inject a bit of life into the cardboard cut-out of a man that is Nick Arnstein. Much is made comically of the extreme high difference between Smith and Campbell, but it’s an on stage relationship that works.
Joel Montague as Eddie Ryan, helps get Fanny into showbiz and retains her friendship throughout. Montague gives a solid performance with some nifty tapping thrown in to boot. His scenes with Fanny and Mr Keeny (Maurice Lane) are beautifully timed and a real pleasure to watch.
Valda Aviks (Mrs Meeker), Marilyn Cutts (Mrs Brice) and Gay Soper (Mrs Strakosh) are just superb. Cutts particularly gives Mrs Brice some lovely light and shade helping to bring some normalcy to life as her daughter begins her meteoric rise.
Any show involving a Ziegfeld star would not be complete without a Ziegfeld, and this production of Funny Girl has the wonderful Bruce Montague in the role. Montague is all stature and grace on stage, he plays Ziegfeld with warmth, which balances nicely against Brice’s manic persona.
You’ll find it hard to miss Philip Bertioli, Luke Fetherston and Matthew Goodgame, who play all manner of extra characters from Follies performers to contractors in Nick’s casino scheme. They are kept busy throughout and simply wonderful.
Musical Director Theo Jameson, keeps the pace lively throughout the production and brings Chris Walker’s orchestrations to life with sparkle and pizazz. The book of Funny Girl remains its weakness, it’s flimsy in the extreme but the score and performances are what makes this production.
Director Michael Mayer and Designer Michael Pavelka have created a Funny Girl that is constantly moving, charting the express train trajectory of Brice’s rise to fame. Action moves flawlessly from backstage to onstage, from New York to Pittsburgh and to other locations flawlessly. Some scenes in Pavelka’s etched glass and mirrored, but slightly askew theatre set are astonishingly beautiful. Matthew Wright’s costumes for Fanny are simply beautiful and look sensational on Smith. Such is the nature and advancements in production that this production of Funny Girl has one third of the cast of the original and an orchestra half the size, but you’d hardly know it.
Smith is now one a handful of British Talent that can ensure packed theatres through her presence and considerable talent. It must surely be time for her to create roles rather than be encumbered by original productions and other performances. So the clarion call must go out to British composers and show-writers to create sensational shows for one of our greatest young stage stars. Smith deserves to have quality shows written around her considerable talent and personality.
In the meantime there’s no doubt that anybody will be raining on Sheridan Smith’s parade. This limited season Funny Girl is selling like hotcakes. Book a ticket now or wait another fifty years!