This was the Menier‘s fastest-selling production (entire run sold out in a few hours) and an announcement of a transfer to the West End well before Funny Girl – the story of Broadway star Fanny Brice – had even started previews. People who need tickets needn’t panic.
Andrew was fastest finger first and nabbed some for the last preview (yes, we are a bit behind). So expectations were absurdly high. Would we be drooling over Sheridan Smith‘s Fanny?
The added good news for the Menier was we’d seen wonder.land the day before. So, absolutely nothing to beat at all.
This of course is the show that rocketed Streisand to the kind superstardom that enables you to build your own shopping mall under your Malibu mansion. First she wowed them on Broadway, repeated her success in London (Maurice Lane who plays theatre manager Mr Keeney here, appeared in the chorus of the original 1966 West End production) and, unusually for a relative unknown, nabbed the film role that won her a Best Actress Oscar, albeit a tie with Katherine Hepburn. Mind you, if you’re going to get an Academy Award for your first film, you’d hardly complain about sharing it with Hepburn.
Comparisons to Streisand are as inevitable as comparisons are to Gypsy; backstage story of ambition, big female lead role and music by Jule Styne (lyrics by Bob Merrill). And now a transfer to the Savoy where Gypsy recently ended its run.
Smith plays comedienne Fanny Brice from her struggling days auditioning for vaudeville shows to Ziegfeld Follies star, picking up a vertiginously appointed spunk of a husband, gambler cum conman Nicky Arnstein (Darius Campbell), on the way.
Campbell is perfectly cast as the dishy smoothie making a fine fist of what is a fairly insipid role and has no trouble making us forget Omar Sharif’s warbling in the movie. There’s great work from Marilyn Cutts, Valda Aviks and Gay Soper as Fanny’s mother and card-playing chums and Joel Montague is charming as a best friend who is partial to Fanny.
Harvey Fierstein has been brought in to tweak Isobel Lennart‘s so-so book but the slender story still took a while to crank up in Act 1 which doesn’t contain the film’s “Second Hand Rose” or the roller skating. However it does contain the best numbers including, “People”, “Don’t Rain on My Parade” and the funniest number of the night “You Are Woman”, topped – in the hilarity stakes – only by a later sight gag involving a photograph. If things flag a little in Act 2 it moves along more quickly than the film’s draggy second half, this version contains “Find Yourself a Man” splendidly delivered by Cutts and Montague and another big comedy turn, “Rat-Tat-Tat-Tat”, led by Smith (just about) wearing a comedy moustache.
Michael Mayer‘s direction and a pair of travelators keep things moving along so we don’t dwell on some theatrical deadwood too much. The set by Michael Pavelka under Mark Henderson’s lighting looks classy, Matthew Wright’s costumes are opulent, the choreography by Lynne Page is zippy if cramped by the venue and the chorus are splendid. Despite losing the intimacy of the confined Menier it will no doubt look even better in the roomier Savoy Theatre. It is meant to be the Ziegfield Follies after all. A few more in the chorus wouldn’t go amiss once it transfers.
At the end of the day it’s all about Smith’s Fanny (enough with the Fanny gags already – ed) and whilst no one expects the vocal power of Streisand, she has more genuine charm and emotes movingly when she’s not being giddily hilarious. It’s the fault of the show rather than Smith that the end feels like a second hand “Rose’s Turn”.
Can’t say Funny Girl doesn’t deliver the promise of the tin.