Thursday, 3 December 2015

Review: Funny Girl at the Menier Chocolate Factory

Funny Girl
Menier Chocolate Factory
Reviewed on Wednesday 2nd December 2015

Funny Girl hasn't been seen in London since the original Broadway production transferred to the West End in 1966 starring the one and only Barbra Streisand who famously reprised her performance in the film adaptation two years later. 

Smith & Campbell
Interestingly, before taking my seat at the Menier I knew very little about Funny Girl. Of course everybody knows a few of the show's biggest songs ('People', 'Funny Girl' and 'Don't Rain On My Parade) and I was vaguely familiar with the story which juxtaposes Fanny Brice's rise to stardom with the downfall of her marriage to Nick Arnstein. 

I had no idea what to expect but found Funny Girl beautifully charming. Since the day this production was announced there has been endless talk about the the musical's book being particularly weak in the second act, so Broadway's Harvey Fierstein was brought in to revise the script. Personally I didn't find the book anywhere near as disastrous as others have made out; it's both funny and tender and I didn't think the second act dragged at all. 

Sheridan Smith truly is one in a million. She owns the show and successfully puts an entirely fresh stamp on Fanny Brice. Marking her return to musical theatre for the first time since her star turn in Legally Blonde, it is an utter joy to see Smith once again taking an audience under her wing. There is something magical about watching Smith onstage and it is truly remarkable to appreciate her performance in the intimacy of the Menier Chocolate Factory before the show transfers to the Savoy next year.

Smith is naturally funny and excels during all the performance numbers. She acts her way through 'People' with such heartbreaking truth before commanding the stage with 'Don't Rain On My Parade' - Smith can certainly hold on to a belter of a note. 

The dynamic between Smith and Darius Campbell (Nick Arnstein) works well - I totally believed that Smith's Brice would do anything for Campbell's Arnstein. Smith effortlessly switches between conveying both Brice's on and off stage personas and grows with the character beautifully. She has a talent they can't teach you at drama school - her performance is supreme.

Smith & Montague

Marilyn Cutts is a stand out as Mrs Brice, sharing some brilliant scenes with Valda Aviks (Mrs O’Malley) and Gay Soper (Mrs Strakosh) whilst Joel Montague is endearing as Eddie. Lynne Page's choreography of the big dance numbers is terrific. The female ensemble never put a foot wrong plus a special mention must go to Matthew Croke and Luke Fetherston who work incredibly hard throughout the show, both proving themselves as impeccable triple threats.

I adored Michael Mayer's production at the Menier - the show lends itself to a smaller space so it will be intriguing to see how it sits in a larger West End venue when it transfers next year (I think a larger cast would be required to make it work). Some may label it as a troubled musical, but I think as long as you approach Funny Girl with a fresh pair of eyes you are in for a treat. I fell in love with Sheridan Smith all over again, she carries the piece and is an absolute dream.

Reviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)

Funny Girl runs at the Menier Chocolate Factory until 5th March 2016.

Photo Credit: Marc Brenner

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