Milton Keynes Theatre, Milton Keynes – until 4 March 2017
Guest reviewer: Catherine Françoise
Revisiting Funny Girl, now on tour after its tumultuous (but always impressive) London run that had started at the Menier Chocolate Factory, it’s almost impossible to believe how Michael Mayer had managed to stage it in that tiny space south of the river. Now, watching it in a venue several times the size, the touring production looks absolutely fabulous – cast, set and costumes with the show sounding sparkling, new and exuberant.
This timeless, true life, rags-to-riches story of a Jewish Hungarian immigrant’s talented but quirky daughter certainly captivated the midweek full house at Milton Keynes and no doubt will do so on the rest of the tour. Sheridan Smith is vibrant and happy, back on top form and absolutely owning the character of Fanny Brice that she created at the Menier. She was born to play this role!
Opposite her is Chris Peluso who the gods have blessed with a glorious voice and as gorgeous a presence. Peluso’s Nick Arnstein is a little more serious than Darius Campbell’s London performance and isn’t quite (yet) the match for Smith’s on-stage majesty. But these are very early days for this national tour, and there is every likelihood that Peluso will dig just a little deeper to more than rise to the role.
The supporting cast are fabulous with no weak links. There’s fine work (and tap dancing)from Joshua Lay’s ‘disappointed in love’ Eddie. Rachel Izen, Myra Sands and Zoe Ann Bown are a hoot as Fanny’s mother and her friends, ladies of a certain age delighting in life and gossip. Throughout, the Ziegfeld girls look and sound stunning and alongside the ensemble boys, all dance with style and panache.
Jule Styne’s score sounds tremendous, wonderfully arranged by Alan Willams and superbly orchestrated by Chris Walker. It’s a tribute to the band to see so many of the audience stay and listen to the very end of the play out and deservedly applaud.
Credit too to Smith (and at certain future performances, her famously sensational London understudy Natasha J Barnes too) for having the gumption to go on the road with the show. All too often, a show’s headline stars can tend to drift away come tour-time, replaced by leads who whilst unquestionably excellent, lack star quality. Not so here, where Smith will be toughing out like a trouper. Brava!
Funny Girl on tour is a chance to glimpse the West End’s finest, up close. We’re all people who need people and amidst a marvellous company, Sheridan Smith continues to make this show unmissable.