FROM the moment Sheridan Smith steps on stage, she has the audience under her spell.
Vulnerable, deeply insecure, yet eternally optimistic, her portrayal of Ziegfeld Follies’ legend Fanny Brice is theatrical gold.
The Playhouse, Greenside Place
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Reprising the role that won her critical acclaim on the West End, Smith showed she has comedy in her very bones from the moment she flailed around in her first hilariously klutzy dance routine.
Funny Girl tells the story of real life Broadway star and comedian, Fanny Brice. Of her rise to fame and of her stormy relationship with gambler Nick Arnstein.
Without raining on anyone’s parade, it has to be said, tales of working-class girls making their names in showbiz have long been a favourite of Broadway... and Funny Girl follows much the same formula.
What makes it different is the comedy, and Smith is a wonderful clown.
Challenging the aesthetic of the day, Fanny Brice defied the norm. In the role, Smith inhabits every moment and imbues Fanny with an inherent empathy that transcends the stage.
Channelling all the comic deportment of a female Lou Costello, she gurns and blunders her way through routines, raising laughs and lifting spirits.
Mischievous glances are cast directly at audience members and when Darius Campbell, as Nick Arnstein, comments that Fanny has “a relationship with an audience like that between old friends”, it’s an apt description of Smith’s rapport with her ‘old friends’, creating, as she does, an intimacy between herself and each one of the thousands watching. It’s a skill mastered by few.
If laughs come thick and fast in Act 1, so the tears of a clown flow freely in an emotional Act 2.
As her straight man, Campbell is smooth and debonair, bringing a rich resonance to every line and lyric.
Together, however, they make an odd couple. Campbell positively towers over his diminutive leading lady.
Adding to the laughs with a nice line in New York humour, Rachel Izen as Fanny’s ‘battle-axe’ mother is a stern yet caring creation.
While the big musical numbers bring a bit of Broadway magic to Greenside Place (never more than in the hilariously risqué You Are Woman, I Am Man and the iconic People), when an audience leaps to its feet as she takes her bow, there is no doubt that this is Sheridan Smith’s show.