Friday 24 November 2017

Sheridan spectacular as Funny Girl Brice

Sheridan Smith is simply a phenomenal being, with the ability to act, sing and dance, as well as having impeccable comic timing. She is the Funny Girl. Barbra who?

Sheridan Smith puts in an outstanding performance in Funny Girl, and has a fantastic singing voice
Sheridan Smith puts in an outstanding performance in Funny Girl, and has a fantastic singing voice

Anne Marie Scanlon

Funny Girl is synonymous with two women: Fanny Brice, the funny lady of the title, the vaudevillian star of early 20th century Broadway, and Barbra Streisand, who got her big break when she starred in the original Broadway show in 1964, before reprising the role in the 1968 film, for which she won an Oscar.

At the risk of raining on Streisand's parade and irritating her legion of fans, playing Brice wasn't that much of a stretch. Both women were Jewish New Yorkers who could turn their hand to singing, dancing, acting and comedy.

Similarly, both women were known for not being typically "beautiful". What chance would anyone, let alone a pretty girl from Lincolnshire like Sheridan Smith, have of outdoing Streisand?

Nothing I can write here can convey just how amazing a performer Smith is. As Brice, she is wholly convincing as a little Jewish girl in pre-World War I New York.

Her accent, and those of the rest of the cast, is spot on, and I've lived in New York.

Smith is a talented actress - as anyone who saw her on TV in The Moorside earlier this year, or in the title role in Cilla last year, will know - but by God, can she sing.

Once you hear her rendition of People Who Need People, you will walk out of the theatre thinking, "Barbra who?". While Smith can turn her hand to anything - breaking your heart one minute and making you break your heart laughing the next - with all her richness of talent, it is her comic ability that stands out beyond all else.

Smith has physical comedy nailed and her timing is, quite simply, flawless. Not for nothing (as Fanny would say) is this called Funny Girl, and if the original Brice had half the comic chops of Smith, then no wonder she was a hit.

While Smith plays Brice, a woman who trod the boards more than 100 years ago, to perfection, there is something about the actor herself that harks back to a different time. Occasionally, Smith's personal life (one heartbreak after another) hits the headlines, and it appears that she is, in many ways, a 'tragic diva' in the same mould as Judy Garland and Marilyn Monroe - that despite all the talent and acclaim, she struggles to sustain happiness.

In Funny Girl, Brice is a 'tragic diva', and it is Smith's ability to let the audience see her vulnerability that puts the cherry on top of what is already a barnstorming performance.

Brice fell in love with a bad 'un - Nicky Arnstein, who in Funny Girl is let off the hook as being more of an eejit than a serious criminal. Darius Campbell (formerly known as Danesh) turns in an impeccable performance as the smooth, suave Nick, and dusts it off with just the right amount of cheese. Props, too, to Rachel Izen, who plays Fanny's mother - the relationship between them is so natural that it is easy to forget that they are not a genuine mother and daughter. Fanny gets her heart broken, but in the old showbiz tradition, the show must go on - and so must she.

As Smith reprises Don't Rain On My Parade, while Fanny paints on a smile, I challenge anyone to see it and not get goosebumps.

Funny Girl plays Bord Gáis Energy Theatre 11-15 July 2017. Tickets on sale AT Ticketmaster. Bordgaisenergytheatre.ie

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