The Mayflower, Southampton – until 27 May
I saw Funny Girl last year whilst it was in London at The Menier Chocolate Factory. A tiny theatre where there is no room to hide and the audience can see every facial expression given. I say this because it is key to the performance. None more so than for Sheridan Smith playing Fanny Brice. Although at that time I didn’t review it as my visit was just for pleasure. As a fan of Sheridan Smith, in my mind it warranted five stars – as you can see I’ve not changed my point of view!
Opening on Broadway in 1964 and more often known for the 1968 motion picture starring Barbara Streisand and Omar Sharif, Funny Girl is a biographical show based on the book of the same name written by Isobel Lennart. The life of famed comedienne and entertainer of the early 1900s Fanny Brice (Sheridan Smith). We see her rise to fame as a Ziegfield girl, subsequent career and her personal life, particularly her relationship with Nick Arnstein (Darius Campbell).
As Fanny, Sheridan Smith, utters the line “that’s where I live on stage” the meaning is felt throughout the auditorium because Smith was born to play this role. A character actress with perfect comic timing able to ad lib and react to a spontaneous reaction from the audience Smith is every inch the star that Miss Brice was. Her facial expressions, sense of mischief and comedy are all ever present as always. The passion and need for love, success and to be loved portrayed to perfection.
As I said I saw this in a very much smaller theatre and whilst I had a good view it does concern me that in bigger venues the interaction and facial expressions could be lost. That said the stage presence Smith exudes, fills any auditorium ten times over.
Playing opposite Smith is Darius Campbell suave, debonair and a cad, it’s not hard to be reminded of the wonderful Omar Sharif from the film. Together Smith and Campbell are dynamic each showing why they are indeed West End leading stars.
Iconic songs, made famous by their Broadway and film predecessors, are delivered with charismatic charm and poise. Songs such as Cornet Man, I Want To Be Seen With You, I’m The Greatest Star, You Are Woman And I Am Man, Sadie, Sadie and of course the showstoppers People and Don’t Rain On My Parade.
Whilst it is Smith that leads the cast played opposite by Campbell there are some truly wonderful supporting actors which just light up the stage in their own moments. Myra Sands (Mrs Strakosh) Zoë Ann Brown (Mrs Meeker) and Rachel Izen as Mrs Brice were among these and had some really lovely moments. While loveable and talented Eddie Ryan was played by Joshua Lay and the main man Florenz Ziegfeld was portrayed by Nigel Barber.
This touring company are the height of professionalism. The show is slick, gorgeously visual, with a brilliant supporting cast and is a delight to watch. Its leading man is full of charismatic charm and *Sheridan Smith aptly sings “I’m The Greatest Star” which eloquently sums up her performance as Fanny Brice. At the Mayflower Southampton until 27th – remaining tickets are few but make sure you grab one if you can or catch at a venue near you.
*At some venues the role of Fanny Brice is played by Natasha J Barnes whom in my experience, if you are lucky enough to see at your local venue, is equally a shining star.