Sheridan Smith in Funny Girl

Laura Sexton gives Funny Girl a standing ovation after going to review it at Milton Keynes Theatre.

From the moment Sheridan Smith walked out on stage I knew Funny Girl would be a hit. Her acting, comedic timing, and musical ability was in a class of its own. She was effortlessly brilliant. 

I’ve always been a fan of Sheridan Smith, who is known for her TV roles on shows such as Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps, The Scapegoat, and Gavin and Stacey, to name a few. So when I heard that she’d be starring as Fanny Brice, in Funny Girl, I was enthusiastic to say the least.

Despite not knowing much about the show before I entered the theatre, any doubts as to whether I’d enjoy it were swept away as I found myself tapping my toes along to the overture, readily awaiting the glitzy showbiz musical.

The musical is a semi-biographical story based on the life of Fanny Brice. The stage production follows Fanny, a young aspiring singer whose non-stereotypical looks and personality lead people to believe she has no talent. However quite the contrary when she performs I’m the Greatest Star in front of Eddie Ryan, played by Joshua Lay, who works at the theatre, who soon realises her singing talent and superb gift of comedic timing.

Fanny is then catapulted into stardom and meets the gentleman of her dreams, Nick Arnstein, played by Chris Peluso, and falls in love. However trouble in her marriage to Nick, who is a failing gambler, causes dilemmas for Fanny. 

The show is really a message of self-confidence, acceptance, and not letting anyone, or anything hold you back from being who you are.

Pictured: Sheridan Smith as Fanny Brice in Funny Girl. (Photo credit: Johan Persson).

The feeling of wanting to get up and dance along with the carefully choreographed routines, was a feeling that was probably rather common throughout the auditorium. The chorus line’s impeccable balletic, tap and jazz numbers complemented the leads’, and when Joshua Lay performed his sprightly solo tap routine the audience certainly whistled loudly. Not to mention his duet of Who Taught Her Everything with Rachel Izen, who played Mrs Brice, Fanny’s mother. The pair were the perfect, unlikely, comedy duo, and boy, can they belt out a tune.

The musical’s set was simplistic yet effective, and very cleverly done. Each scene merged into the next through the cast exiting and re-entering the stage in different costumes, representing time and location change.

The scene where the cast performed Henry Street was a personal favourite, with slapstick, party-like choreography by Lynne Page that made dancing look easy. I think I could easily have gotten up on stage and joined in, if it wasn’t for the fact that the auditorium was packed; and I’m not surprised, as this show deserved nothing less than a full house.

I have to admit that when Smith sang People it sent chills down my arms. Her emotional connection with the role and the song made the performance so believable and moving, it was hard not to get caught up in the story. When the song was reprised in the second half, alongside Chris Peluso, it brought a tear to my eye, as their on-stage relationship couldn’t have been better.

The original show opened in Broadway in 1964 and even after 53 years, the love and passion for creating this show seems to have remained strong and is clear to see in this rendition of Funny Girl which is directed by Michael Mayer. The 1964 version was produced by the real Fanny Brice’s son-in-law, Ray Stark, and starred Barbra Streisand.

With what could be described as not your run of the mill ‘happy ending’, Smith’s final belt of Rain On My Parade, left the message that true happiness comes from accepting yourself, and simply, not letting anyone rain on your parade.

Funny Girl is currently touring the UK, after a popular run in The West End, and will visit Liverpool Empire, Bristol Hippodrome, Stoke Regent Theatre, Birmingham Hippodrome, Theatre Royal Plymouth, and Manchester Palace Theatre, among many other UK theatres.

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Lead image photo credit: Johan Persson.