Is there anything Sheridan Smith can’t do?
She’s now playing Fanny Brice in the new West End musical Funny Girl, but Smith has done quite a bit in her short 34 years. Already an OBE, Smith has won tons of awards for her work both on stage and on television. She’s won two Laurence Olivier Awards (Legally Blonde in 2011 and Flare Path in 2012) and one television BAFTA (Mrs. Biggs in 2013). Smith has also been featured in several films in the past few years, including the recent ‘The Huntsman: Winter’s War’ and 2013’s ‘Powder Room’ and ‘The Harry Hill Movie.’ But it’s her role as Brice in ‘Funny Girl’ that’s bringing Smith more plaudits and acclaim.
In a role Smith starred in last year to sell out crowds at the Menier Chocolate Factory, it’s now transferred to the Savoy Theatre for a short 12 week run. Smith plays Brice, a role which made Barbra Streisand famous (and which won her a Tony and an Oscar), so Smith has huge shoes to follow. And does she fill them? Not even close.
Fanny Brice is the true story of a young Brooklyn born Jewish girl with huge stage aspirations. The real Brice was born in 1891 to Hungarian immigrants who had arrived to the U.S. as children but managed to make a life for themselves and their children in Brooklyn. So Smith’s job is to make you forget Streisand’s Brice and reinvent the character to make it her own. And she does in her own way. She’s charming and lovely and can sure belt out a tune. Songs made extremely memorable by Streisand - ‘People’ and ‘Don’t Rain on My Parade’ - are sung by Smith, good enough for this production, but not very memorable. And we’re supposed to believe that the handsome, debonair, charming (and con man) Nick Arnstein (Darius Campbell - perfect in the role) falls in love with her and not for her money. She’s so in love with him that she certainly can put up with his gambling habits and dubious investments. But even Brice can’t figure why he’s fallen for her, and neither can the audience.
Brice does find fame and fortune as a performer, with a proud Jewish mother (Marilyn Cutts) by her side all the way, living her dream by being employed by the great Florenz Zlegfield (Bruce Montague). But the crux of the show is the relationship between Brice and Arnstein, it’s a volatile one but not quite believable, and it’s a shame that the show isn’t more about Brice’s talent and less about the relationship. Smith is given her moments, and she gives it all she’s got, a bit over the top at times (her Brooklyn Jewish accent is a bit over exaggerated at times). There are no amazing sets, and no showstopping numbers as in most musicals. But great costumes and an excellent supporting cast, with classic musical numbers, makes ‘Funny Girl’ worth a look. It’s not a very memorable production but it’s clearly a star vehicle for Smith, and she makes it her own.
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