I’m not at all sure that Funny Girl is quite my thing, but how will I know unless I give it a go? We haven’t watched a musical since lockdown began, so at the very least it’ll be a change. And Sheridan Smith is bound to be good, isn’t she?
Oh yes, she is. Smith is a delightful performer; she oozes charisma, and her vocals are stunning. She’s lively and likeable, connecting easily with the audience, even via the small screen.
I’m not mad about the play though. It’s too slight and feels dated (well, it is over fifty years since Barbra Streisand wowed in the movie version). It’s a biographical piece about 1920s Broadway star Fanny Brice, and the central notion seems to be how very surprising it is that someone as plain as Fanny can become successful. She’s so talented she can overcome her looks! And a handsome man even falls in love with her! It’s all a bit too Susan-Boyle-backstory for me.
Of course, it’s true that beauty matters far too much in show business, even now; it’s all too credible. It’s just that the script seems to venerate Fanny for overcoming her ordinary features, rather than excoriating an industry that values the wrong things.
The love story is weak as well. Darius Campbell plays Nick Arnstein, but I never really believe in him as a debonair playboy, and I never really get why Fanny falls for him the way she does. She seems so much stronger than him and so self-sufficient; the story is reminiscent of A Star is Born, but without the same tension. Nick doesn’t ever seem to have a star for Fanny to eclipse.
Nevertheless, this is a lively, spirited piece of theatre; the two hours pass by pleasantly. The choreography is cheeky and upbeat, and director Michael Mayer sensibly foregrounds the humour throughout. Because Fanny’s good-natured clowning is genuinely funny, and Smith knows how to make it land.
In fact, she’s so much better than the material it’s almost a travesty. She saves it, just, by being so irresistible.