May 12 – it has been announced that Sheridan Smith will take '2-4 weeks leave of absence from the production due to stress and exhaustion'. Natasha J Barnes will play Fanny Brice during this period
Barbra who? It’s no small triumph that Sheridan Smith has all but banished the ghost of productions past in this revival of the musical that made Barbra Streisand’s name in 1964. Streisand owned the role of New York comedienne and singer Fanny Brice so utterly that no-one had staged ‘Funny Girl’ in London since.
Until last year, that is, when this Menier Chocolate Factory production sold out instantly, with Smith charming giggles and sympathetic sighs from everyone who saw it at the intimate venue. That show has now transferred to the West End and Smith is still terrific. Songs that have been inextricable from Streisand for decades are transformed. The iconic ‘People’ – traditionally a drawn-out belter - becomes something gentler and more yearning. ‘Don’t Rain on My Parade’ deserves its predictable round of applause.
Smith’s eloquent (not to mention flexible) face makes it easy to understand how a gauche Jewish girl from Brooklyn won over audiences to become vaudeville’s biggest star in the early 1900s. Her eyebrows alone deserve acting accolades, raising laughs with the tiniest twitch.
This is Smith’s parade and other performances tend to suffer by comparison, though Marilyn Cutts brings warmth, humour and energy to the role of Fanny’s mother.
Some set pieces have been expanded to fit the 1,150-seat Savoy Theatre. The ‘Henry Street’ party scene fills the stage with spinning skirts and leaping gents in a way that makes you wish for more big chorus numbers. There’s no getting around the fact that ‘Funny Girl’ is pretty thin on plot - even by the standards of musical theatre. It’s a tale of girl meets no-good boy. It seems thinner than ever here because Darius Campbell, while vocally impressive, lacks the charisma to transform Fanny’s gambling, womanising lover into a credible suitor.
Not to worry. It’s really all about Smith. ‘I ain’t no chorus girl,’ she says in an early scene. Too bloody right