Review: Funny Girl @ WMC

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Menier Chocolate Factory Production – Funny Girl
Wales Millennium Centre
Wednesday 5th July 2017

There has been a mighty buzz about this production of Funny Girl and it’s star Sheridan Smith. Just to think the name Funny Girl and you instantly conjure up the image of the eternal Barbra Streisand, who did this very show last time it frequented London. Smith has large boots to fill…

Based on the life of Fanny Brice, the Jewish New Yorker of Hungarian descent, she takes the stage by storm and is an early theatre celebrity. She encounters the great Mr. Ziegfeld and her career rockets, as she become her a star in her own right. Bumbling into Nick Arnstein, a whirlwind romance ensues. Yet as her careers reaches new heights, his goes belly up, as debts ensue. Her bail outs for him, are seen as charity and an eventual sad ending is promised, but doesn’t linger too long.

This delightful musical by Jule Styne and Bob Merrill is a mostly happy thrill ride of the rise of a well known star. The show is blessed with one of musicals theatre’s best belter numbers: Don’t Rain On My Parade and its calmer, less famous, though still grand People (Who Need People). The rest of the songs are a series of vibrant, if somewhat lesser fare. The production compresses the set into an intimate musical experience, still faithful to the era. Costumes have that pizazz you’d expect from a show like this, with Fanny’s clothes being especially colourful. The excitable band also adding to the Broadway style mood and toe tapping melodies.

Sheridan Smith is a sensation here. Mostly hilarious (her mannerisms and reactions are so fine) and often heartfelt, her performance earned a standing ovation and only maintained the brilliance of the own star. She never appears to put a foot wrong, only when an actual mistake happens on stage and the audience is rolling on the floor. The rendition of Don’t Rain On My Parade is hearty, whilst People is tender and with much thought, as both songs should be served.

As Arnstein, Darius Campbell exudes a gentlemanly charm that bears many similarities with Mr Big. His singing voice is one good form and some dance work is also pleasant. Fanny’s mother, Mrs Izen is here played by Rachel Izen, who has a real good time playing the no nonsense, Jewish mama. Her song with Fanny’s long term friend zoned pal Eddie (played by a stellar Joshua Lay) Who Taught Her Everything She Knows? is a cheeky jab at Fanny who has essentially run off to stardom and left them behind. A fine set of dancers and singers lighten the mood at most turns and have a mighty physical presence, towering over short Fanny, who finds humour in all her afflictions. The Jewish humour here is in overdrive and it’s welcome beyond measure.

With Broadway predicted on the horizon, perhaps Smith would consider the other show continuing the Fanny Brice story: Funny Lady.

Spirited with joy & a telling wit.

Rating: 4 stars

Photo Credit: Marc Brenner

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