6 May 2016

Funny Girl at Savoy Theatre was a triumph for Sheridan Smith

I last saw Sheridan Smith in a musical at the Savoy Theatre back in September 2010 when she was in Legally Blonde and while I had seen her a couple of times since then that was in serious plays, if you can count A Midsummer Night's Dream as serious that is, so it was good to have the opportunity to see her sing again.

I was tempted to get tickets for her run in Funny Girl at Menier Chocolate Factory but even though I was far more organised that usual they had sold out before I could get some. I was, therefore, delighted when it was announced that the show would transfer to the Savoy Theatre and I was in early to get front row seats in the Grand Circle (that's the top level). Other people had expressed an interest in going so I ended up buying four tickets, A18-20, for £39.50 each.

The view was reasonable, as the photo shows, and hearing was not a problem as the sound was amplified. Sadly the amplification was a little bit of a problem as the clarity was not always there and I could not hear some lines that people elsewhere in the theatre laughed at.

In some ways the story of Funny Girl is the same as Legally Blonde, a young woman faces setbacks at work but battles through to become a success. In Legally Blonde Elle's success comes near to the end when she shifts from what is expected of her to become shocking in pink but in Funny Girl ii happens almost immediately, Fanny is thrown out of the chorus for her bad looks (Sheridan!!) and poor dancing, resolves to become a star by exploiting her comedy and gets her opportunity straight away.

Of course it is not all as simple as that and there are some hiccoughs along the way, some of them very big, but essentially the story is about her success through individuality and effort.

Funny Girl is very much a one-woman story, more so than Legally Blonde, and Sheridan was absolutely brilliant as Fanny Brice. She sang well enough but it was her acting that dominated the show. She had all the familiar humorous touches learned in her early comedy career, e.g. Two Pints ..., plus she convincingly transformed herself into a dark-haired Jewish American. It was a magnificent performance that was widely applauded throughout the show and even more at the end.

Even though it was a one woman story it took a good cast of characters to tell it, there were other significant roles, like her husband and her mother, and a chorus of singers and dancers who supported Fanny in her stage performances. The card playing elderly relatives were a particular favourite with the audience, and rightly so.

The music was fairly standard musical fare with a mix of belters (Don't Rain on My Parade) and slow ballads (People) played by a small orchestra. The two songs mentioned were the only two that I knew and that was fine as the rest were in the same vein. Here the songs were more about Fanny's/Sheridan's performance of them that what they added to the narrative, and she sang in most of them.

Funny Girl fitted Sheridan so well that it could have been conceived as a star vehicle for her. She is not yet in the Imelda Staunton class but the fact that such a comparison is now possible shows just how far she has come as a stage performer. I hope that this is a portent for what she might do in the future and that I do not have to wait another six years to see her in another musical.

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