Funny Girl – UK Tour

Funny Girl is a musical classic that tells the story of an ambitious and vibrant young performer whose vocal and comedic talents see her rise from a Brooklyn vaudeville singer to a New York star.

The story is loosely based on the life and career of Fanny Brice and her stormy relationship with magnate and gambler Nicky Arnstein. This bitter-sweet musical is gripping from start to finish, and features some iconic musical numbers from film and theatre history.

Sheridan Smith stars as Fanny Brice and what a treat she is. Having been hailed as one of the greatest theatre stars of her generation it is not difficult to see why. The British public are already aware of Smith from her numerous television roles, from Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps, to her portrayal of British icon Cilla. But it was upon the stage where Ms Smith came alive. Her voice like a caged bull, her comedic timing honed to precision and her face displaying a kaleidoscope of emotion, drawing in the viewer but never letting them stare longer that needed. However, amongst these qualities, it was her kind and respectful nature that became so apparent. As her character demands a tour de force of aggressive excitement, pantomime humour and ‘here I am’ songs, Smith never once tried to outshine her co-stars or given an impression that her name was being used to draw the audience in.

Her portrayal of Fanny Brice was touchingly respectful; from the loveable young hilarious girl on the cusp of a fruitful career, all the way to the world-weary woman dealing with the turmoil of a tempestuous marriage. Her character was allowed purpose through the dialogue of the show, meaning her character never stagnated or slipped or became anything less than first established on the stage. It remained faithful but more importantly it gave the audience a promise of familiarity. Of course, Smith is already going to be compared to Barbra Streisand but did we expect the outcome? No! Smith swept Streisand comparisons away, making the audience believe that we were hers and she was ours and that nothing prior had ever existed. Smith deserved the standing ovation she received and I’m sure she will continue to do so night after night.

This production is bursting with quality from every angle. The 23-strong ensemble were phenomenal, giving Broadway-West End glamour and sparkle for the more affordable price but never through substituted drive or ambition to deliver a mind-blowing piece of theatre. In the big dance numbers, there was some fantastic choreography by Lynne Page which was integrated cleverly into the set changes but also poignantly placed like hidden Easter eggs, which the audience found delightfully charming and impressive throughout.

Chris Peluso was smouldering as the slick high roller Nick Arnstein and excelled in his role as a character who seems almost too good to be true and slowly unravels throughout Act 2. Peluso gifted not only with good looks but also the ability to confuse his audience into moral dilemma as we decided – is he good or is he a crook? Much must be said about his voice which came out of nowhere – but we were glad it decided to stay. Rachel Izen was particularly memorable as the no-nonsense mother Mrs Brice through her razor-sharp deliverance and withering looks as well as Joshua Lay as Eddie Ryan, the love interest who gets left behind. The characterisation of which was so subtle and familiar, it made hearts break with the crushing rejection of love, displayed by a slight relax of the face and the soft element of the words delivered. This was acting at its finest and most powerful.

The production, directed by Michael Mayer, does exceptionally well at building the atmosphere with high energy comedic musical numbers before shattering the illusion revealing the reality of people’s lives behind all the glitz and glamour.
But the real point of dazzlement was the use of the lighting and staging which gave way to some real razzle dazzle. The use of mirrors, gauzes and set all combined with love, imagination and talent provided one of the most impressive uses of theatre space, I have ever seen. The lighting of Mark Henderson was reminiscent of golden-age Hollywood with the use of lighting so dramatic, it could have probably told the story for us.

The set was largely minimal except for the bigger numbers within the show. However, Michael Pavelka had made a wise and justified choice to show only what is necessary. He made the right decision of not letting his vision becoming one of excess, as is so often found within musicals, that lights and glamour can mean confrontational and unnecessary design. It was simple, effective and it told the story rather than inhibiting it.

A point of reference should be made to Chris Walker and Alan Williams for the impressive arrangements of the music and of course, to the orchestra for not only serenading the audience with sonic seduction but for also providing an old-style and old-fashioned big band sound, so uncommon in this time and place.

The show is a masterclass in musical theatre, but not in the way that musical theatre usually is. It was essentially Hollywood on a shoe-string budget but it most certainly was not the shoe-strings of old trainers, rather jewel-encrusted stilettoes which ricocheted their way in. In short, go and buy a ticket. In a time of such change and challenge, we should all be in the company of a Funny Girl, even if it is only a night.

You can check the Funny Girl Official Website for the remaining tour details.

FUNNY GIRL, , MUSIC – JULE STYNE, Lyrics – Bob Merrill, Book – Harvey Fierstein, Director – Michael Mayer, Choreography – Lynne Page, Set Design – Michael Pavelka, Costumes – Matthew Wright, Lighting – Mark Henderson, The Savoy Theatre, London, 2016, Credit: Johan Persson/

About Author /

Louis is a Drama and English Literature student at Liverpool Hope University. Louis has been performing from a young age with a desire to eventually become a professional actor.

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