Revivals always run the risk of not resonating with a contemporary audience, or relying wholly on nostalgia, but Michael Mayer’s touring production of the Fanny Brice story, made famous by Barbara Streisand on stage and screen in the 1960s, is compelling and relevant without so much as a hint of sentimentality.
This production of Funny Girl is a timeless tale told with new verve; overall perfection of vocal delivery and spot-on comic timing
Fanny Brice’s story is one of determination to be accepted for the type of performer she was in a male-dominated world. Her strength attracted another charismatic person, professional gambler Nick Arnstein, with whom she fell deeply in love but who ultimately repeated the fate of her own mother and her absent father.
Switching from rubber-faced, tack-sharp wit to vulnerable pathos-infused moments, Sheridan Smith’s portrayal of the un-put-downable Fanny Brice is pure joy. At times it feels so intimate as to be voyeuristic, at others the audience rolls with collusive laughter. Her on-stage relationship with Arnstein—played by Darius Campbell, with more than enough understated swoonsome smoothness to rival the late Omar Sharif—is believable. Smith and Campbell are supported by a terrific cast including the neat tap dancing of Joshua Lay who plays love-thwarted friend, Eddie Ryan.
Whilst the plot of Funny Girl is necessarily whittled down and altered from the reality, Brice’s story remains an outstanding example of the difficulties faced—and still faced today—by women in “the business called show”. As Goldie Hawn explained in a recent Sunday Times interview, archaic attitudes mean that a funny woman cannot also be sexy. Funny Girl’s opening song, If a Girl Isn’t Pretty, highlights this, while the irony of His Love Makes Me Beautiful is echoed later as Brice laments the loss of Arnstein. How different the story might have been if Brice had accepted Ryan as a suitor. However, her personality dictated she pursue something more exciting, as with her career though that served her better than Arnstein’s addicted personality.
Michael Pavelka’s set, decorated with art nouveau floral motifs and Matthew Wright’s sumptuous period costumes seem to flow from a Clara Driscoll or Alphonse Mucha design, slipping into the more Deco style of Erté, perfectly encapsulate the years around the Great War.
This production of Funny Girl is a timeless tale told with new verve; the overall perfection of vocal delivery and spot-on comic timing prove Sheridan Smith’s natural and immense capacity for musical comedy. The standing ovation Smith receives at the end is clear indication that her recent Olivier Award nomination for Best Actress in a Musical was well-deserved.