REVIEW: Funny Girl
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REVIEW: Funny Girl, The Mayflower, Southampton May 23rd 2017
Visit the Mayflower theatre in Southampton this week and you’ll find yourself transported to the furore of 1920s New York City Broadway.
Following a highly acclaimed 50th anniversary revival of Funny Girl at the Savoy in the West End, Olivier-award-winner Sheridan Smith returns to star as Fanny Brice for much of the UK tour. Brice’s character was last played in London by musical theatre icon Barbra Streisand, but watching Smith on stage, you wouldn’t be blamed for thinking the role had been devised for her.
Fanny Brice rose to fame after debuting at an amateur night in Brooklyn at the age of 15. In 1910, she was picked up by Florenz Zeigfeld, impresario and Broadway legend of the day.
Brice went on to star in Zeigfelds’s Follies – vaudeville shows famous for their chorus girls, singers and comedians – eventually becoming the highest paid actress on Broadway. Her life was immortalised in the 1968 film starring Barbra Streisand, from which the stage show was later adapted.
Smith’s portrayal of Brice’s determination to succeed is perhaps what has enraptured audiences the most; she is the underdog and she knows it, but it is Brice’s unwavering belief in her talent that sees her first take the stage, despite having being fired the previous day.
However, her character goes deeper than that. In her own self-worth, Brice is much less confident, and I think it is this side of her that people have truly connected with. When Smith’s Brice first meets Nick Arnstein, played by Darius Campbell of Noughties pop fame, she cannot comprehend why an influential, sophisticated man could be interested in her.
With her hilarious facial expressions and knack for physical comedy, Smith’s cheeky, endearing performance causes the entire audience to root for her. We’re desperate for her to achieve her happy ending, but there’s a sense of foreboding as the curtain comes down on the first Act.
I won’t spoil the production by saying much more, but needless to say life goes not always run smoothly for Fanny. Exploring issues of pride, the dissolving of gender roles, and life in the public eye, Funny Girl is a triumph of musical theatre.
Supported by a splendid orchestra and cast of dancers, as well as actresses Rachel Izen, Zoë Ann Bown and Myra Sands as Fanny’s mother and neighbours, Funny Girl introduces us to life in New York’s Jewish community. Nigel Barber is convincing as the commanding Florenz Zeigfeld, and Joshua Lay as Fanny’s doting friend and dance director is a welcome contrast to Campbell’s suave Nick Arnstein.
But, really, this is Smith’s show, her performance earning the longest full-auditorium standing ovation I’ve seen in a long time.
Availability is already limited, so snap up your tickets quickly!