Sunday, 21 August 2016

Bob On... Theatre: Funny Girl - review

In some ways, Funny Girl is going back to the future.  The West End currently features a number of shows looking at the life of, or based upon the music of singers or bands from some years ago.   Funny Girl does this too, looking as it does at the life of comedian, singer and theatre performer Fanny Brice.   But Funny Girl debuted way back in 1964, before the 1968 film version made a star of Barbra Streisland.

For the current revival, National Treasure Sheridan Smith takes on the Streisland role.  And she shines.  Her comic timing is impeccable (looking back, I can’t help but smile recalling the scenes where she meets her future husband and ‘freeze frames’ into what she is thinking).  In the sadder or more emotional moments she wears her feelings on her sleeves; you feel her pain quite palpably.

Funny Girl makes some big demands on it’s lead vocally, not helped by Streisland’s remarkable range and vocal power.  The creative team deserve credit for not trying to out-Streisland Streisland, instead adapting the songs to make the most of Sheridan’s voice (though she can belt out a line when needed and she can hold a note as well; I felt breathless just listening to her).

Sheridan is well-supported by an excellent cast, with special praise being given to Darius Campbell, who has become a polished, reliable and charismatic leading man [SPOILER ALERT] His fall from confident player to desperately clutching at straws to rebuild former successes [SPOILER ENDS] sees him segue from smooth playboy to frustrated at his dependency on his wife’s chequebook – subtle changes to his tone convey his feelings in an utterly convincing way.

I must also praise the set.  It looks basic and simple, but a surprising amount is done with side ribs that change, two conveyor belts and projected backdrops (a nice touch was to replicate the sidewalls of the Savoy at one stage).

If ever a show espoused the saying “The Show Must Go On” it is this one.   Brice's life was a malestrom at times, yet she never let down her public.

I have no doubt that Natasha Barnes is wonderful in the lead when she stands in (and the critics reviews certainly back this up), but if you are lucky enough to see Sheridan Smith perform, you will be in the presence of something special.   I honestly do not think she realises (a) just how talented she is or (b) just how much she is loved – her standing ovation was received by her being close to tears – but she is both, in spades.

Go and see Funny Girl, you will be entertained and moved in equal measure