I know that I am late to the party on Funny Girl but let me just explain how late……. I have never seen the Funny Girl movie, the only song I could sing you from Funny Girl was ‘Don’t Rain on My Parade,’ although I could possibly hum a few bars of ‘People’ at a push. On top of all of this I was unaware of the plot! I was therefore determined to see Funny Girl at the Savoy and find out what the fuss was about.
For those of you, like me, unaware of the story Funny Girls tells of Fanny Brice, a Jewish girl who isn’t pretty enough or co-ordinated enough to make a living on the stage with the chorus girls. She however gets given a break by Eddie Ryan and her comic timing gets her through. She soon gets noticed by Florenz Ziegfeld and she becomes one of the headline acts of the Ziegfeld Follies. It isn’t just Ziegeld’s attention she grabs however, with Nick Arnstein managing to woo her. Things of course are not plain sailing for Nick and Fanny with Nick’s gambling and Fanny’s devotion to the theatre makes for a tumultuous marriage.
The story itself is one of its time with the main problems in the marriage being caused as Brice is out earning her husband and he is unable to deal with this, finding her handouts stifling. If you accept that this has its place in history and simply enjoy the show as a piece of musical theatre then it makes for much easier watching.
The Savoy Production:
A review of Funny Girl at the Savoy has to open with discussion around Sheridan Smith who plays Fanny Brice. There, of course, has been a lot of controversy around Smith however none of this was visible in her performance. Smith has a natural comedic manner about her which is perfect for this role and played on Fanny’s awkwardness to a tee. Smith manages to get every laugh out possible but without any of it being forced. The comedy was helped out with direction, for example the surrounding chorus girls were all a foot taller than Smith, which played perfectly on Brice’s lack of coordination in contrast the the leggy girls surrounding her. Smith has incredible energy and flits easily between the experienced Brice to the young, hopeful chorus girl.
The only criticism I could possibly make of Smith is that sometimes her voice wasn’t big enough. The only time this was really an issue was for the iconic song, ‘Don’t Rain On My Parade.’ The audience are so used to hearing this song belted out by the likes of Streisand and more recently Lea Michele. Whilst Smith sang it well and acted her socks off so you really did feel her emotion she doesn’t have the belt in her needed to deliver this song.
The cast around Smith are equally deserving of praise. The gorgeous Matthew Goodgame was on for Nick Arnsten the night I was in (Arnsten is normally played by Darius Campbell). He was every inch the charming and suave leading man and you could easily see how Fanny could fall for Ansten at the same time as initially being her most awkward around him. The trio of Marilyn Cutts, Valda Aviks and Gay Sopher also frequently had me in stitches.
The rest of the production is done in a very classy manner. The set was classic and allowed the action to focus on the actors delivery while setting it off well. I liked the reoccurring theme in Brice’s dressing room of the mirror were Smith was stationed behind no matter what was happening in Brice’s life.
There isn’t long left to get yourself to Funny Girl. I would recommend that you do your utmost to get yourself to the Savoy, even for no other reason than to see Sheridan Smith take on this iconic role.