If there were any lingering concerns about Sheridan Smith’s ability to fill the Streisand-sized boots of Fanny Brice in Funny Girl, they’re almost immediately dashed the moment she takes to the stage. They’re dashed and then dashed again, and then any remaining shreds of undashed concern are swept up in a little basket and hurled over a cliff to be dashed one last time.
Any shadow cast by Streisand’s original 1964 Broadway musical is undetectable here, deep beneath the earth in the Savoy’s cavernous burrow of a theatre. Smith is a comedy beacon, room-filling and radiant as unconventional stage comedienne Fanny Brice. She brings magnetic charm and sparkling wit to the role of a young starlet whose failure to measure up to chorus girl standards sees her rocket to fame instead as a sing-song slapstick star.
The diminutive Smith is a master of comic timing and snappy one liner delivery, funny whether she’s standing still or imperfectly clattering her way through dance routines and camp musical numbers, knocking glamorous showgirls to the floor like so many gussied up bowling pins. She’s a constant joy to watch, finding wry humour even as she faces sadness and heartbreak in her troubled marriage to a playboy gambler. Her witty asides are endearing little elbow nudges to the giddy audience. Every line here is a winner. You could put Smith’s version of Fanny Brice in an empty room and watch her goof around all day.
She can carry a tune too, belting out Don’t Rain On My Parade with an unlikely degree of hyperactive gusto, while bringing a her own brand of awkwardly smutty shyness to You Are Woman, I Am Man. Supporting her in that regard is ruffle shirted suitor and eventual husband Nick Arnstein, played by Darius Campbell, whose advances over an evening meal inspire the beautifully delivered lyric, “how many girls have become a sinner, while waiting for a roast beef dinner?”
Funny Girl holds no legendary status as a Broadway musical, held back from the top-tier by a lack of truly great numbers, but Smith wrings everything there is to get out of the production. It’s a career-defining performance, uproariously funny and energetic to the end. Streisand be damned, you won’t see Funny Girl performed with this kind of comic bravado again soon.
The Savoy | ★★★★★