There are some theatrical events it is a true honour to witness and Sheridan Smith’s enigmatic portrayal of hapless Fanny Brice is one of them.
Smith is supported by a strong cast including former Pop Idol star Darius Campbell as her distracting handsome gambler husband and Joel Montague as her bumbling, bashful friend, Eddie. However, the eye is relentlessly drawn to Smith and her all-encompassing performance. It’s a rarity to see such complete commitment to a character and Smith lives and breathes every moment of Fanny’s struggle through showbiz and New York bad guys. She possesses that unusual talent of being able to create the illusion of intimacy at a West End venue. The audience feel special and so it’s no wonder they are quick to fall in love with her as she waddles around the stage in her unflattering costumes and raises a laugh with the sneakiest of asides or subtlest of facial expressions. Smith is not just an effective comedienne however, she delivers effortlessly on emotional level too as we see her initial resistance to Campbell’s Arnstein through her wit and body language and how she is slowly won around by his suave ways. Her rendition of ‘People’ is touching and hints at the heartache to come making the reprise all the more bittersweet.
Michael Mayer’s luxurious production transfers well from the smaller Menier Chocolate Factory stage to the Savoy. Lynne Page’s choreography is delightful, especially in the renditions of the glittering Ziegfeld Follie numbers and not without a touch of humour. Michael Pavelka’s set design is simple, effective and unobtrusive from it’s take on Fanny’s simplistic Brooklyn family home to her lavish marital abode with Arnstein.
Campbell’s portrayal of Arnstein is pitched well, it’s a tough call whether he’s a good hearted rogue or an out-and-out bad guy but Campbell’s middle of the road pitch works and his extra foot in height over Smith leaves plenty of room for comedic ammunition which is used to full effect. His silky smooth vocals in ‘I Want to be Seen with You’ and ‘You Are Woman’ don’t hurt either.
The ensemble work hard throughout the performance and the frequent dance numbers are tight and perfectly timed for all the comedic interventions, neither are they too long that they out stay their welcome.
It’s a struggle to fault such a well cast and well stage production. Tickets for the remaining run of Funny Girl are scarce and it’s easy to see why. One can only hope this heart-warming show will be extended so more can enjoy the many and varied talents of the cast and of course Sheridan Smith in another career defining role.