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Review: Sheridan Smith shines in ‘Funny Girl’

By Attitude Magazine

It’s a brave performer who takes on the role of Fanny Brice in Funny Girl. There’s a shadow looming over this rags-to-riches musical in the small-in-stature but giant-in-status shape of a certain Barbra Streisand. She was the original lead in both the stage and screen versions, winning an Oscar (shared with Katharine Hepburn, which must have irked) and the world’s attention, propelling this powerhouse of talent and ambition from rags to riches of her own.

Photo by Marc Brenner

When Streisand belted out I’m The Greatest Star on Broadway, then the West End, then in the widest Cinemascope ratio that could barely contain her charisma it wasn’t so much a song as a statement of intent. The girl from Brooklyn was really challenging people to prove her wrong. There have been many triumphs since (A Star Is Born and Yentl among them) and a few missteps (that Star Is Born afro for one) but Funny Girl remains her signature role and few have dared go near it.

Props, then, to Sheridan Smith, the Lincolnshire lass who with one role after another has proven herself to be one our most talented and versatile actresses. Barbra impersonations should be left to drag queens and Sheridan avoids attempting one. She gives the role of Fanny Brice such a new spin that it feels she hasn’t ever even seen the film or heard the Broadway cast recording let alone studied them. She’s kookier, tougher, less glamorous, more like the real Fanny Brice. Smith doesn’t have Streisand’s singular sex appeal but she’s got something of her own – a vulnerability that lurks beneath the sass. The wisecracks land where they should and the eye-rolls are perfectly timed but you sense her suffering too.

Photo by Marc Brenner

And Fanny suffers. Sure, she goes from wannabe performer to the toast of the stage and she’s the proverbial ugly duckling who gets the guy in the shape of skyscraper-tall Nicky Arnstein. She gets the big house too and a husband, making her the ‘Sadie, Sadie married lady’ of the charming second act opening number. But Nick’s a gambler and a hothead who doesn’t want to live in her shadow, which makes for lots of heartache in that second act.

That’s always been the flaw in Funny Girl: A lot of the air goes out of it after intermission and you miss the fun of Fanny and Nick’s comical courtship song You Are Woman, I Am Man and the defiant drama of Don’t Rain On My Parade that closes act one. Harvey Fierstein, drafted in to give the script a rejig, doesn’t solve the lags. Plus Nick’s a bit of a wet fish and Darius Campbell can’t do much with the part except turn on the charm, although he’s in fine voice.

Photo by Marc Brenner

But the staging is terrific and Sheridan is spectacular, giving a five-star turn in a four- star musical. It’s not a case of a star being born as Smith is a star already, it’s more a case of a star going supernova. When she sings People those who managed to get a ticket for the sold-out Chocolate Factory run will feel like the luckiest people in the world, but the good news is the show is transferring to the Savoy Theatre in the spring.

Rating: 4/5

Funny Girl at the Menier Chocolate Factory is sold out. The show transfers to the Savoy Theatre, London, on April 9th. For more information and tickets visit or call 0844 871 7687