Funny Girl – Playhouse, Edinburgh:
From Brooklyn to Broadway the real life Fanny Brice was the daughter of Hungarian immigrants, who started performing at age 15 and found she had a knack for clowning around while belting out show stopping songs, and catching the eye of impresario Florenz Ziegfeld of Ziegfield Follies fame.
She went on to become the wealthiest stage star of her era and was immortalised by Barbra Streisand in the original film version 50 years ago and on the West end stage.
With some big shoes to fill, the diminutive Sheridan Smith inhabits the role and brings relentless energy, tomfoolery and a crushing vulnerability as we see her slapstick stage routines.
Fanny Brice the eager ingenue is brought to life in the first act and we see her character’s comic persona cracking in the final numbers.
Smith, who started her career in TV sitcoms like The Royle Family and Gavin and Stacey, was seen recently in controversial drama the Moorside. She also starred as a young Cilla Black in an acclaimed three part mini-series and was outstanding in Mrs Biggs as the wife of the great train robber.
Her range is remarkable, running the gamut of drama, comedy and song and dance. As is if all of this was not enough she also shone in Legally Blonde the Musical and has turned her acting talents to straight theatre in Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler.
She brings a tender vulnerability to the role of Fanny, directed by Michael Mayer and ably supported by Joshua Lay as Eddie Ryan, her theatre wingman. Rachel Izen, fresh from a role on Les Miserables on Broadway, plays Mrs Brice.
Smith is simply sensational aided by the wonderful musical material penned by Jule Styne and Bob Merril. Show stopping classics include People and Don’t Rain on My Parade. which is spine tingling in Smith’s hands.
Statuesque Darius Campbell stepped into the role of Nick Arstein when Chris Peluso pulled out from the Edinburgh run through injury. Campbell is dashing and debonair and his wonderful baritone speaking and singing voice makes Nick a delightful counterpoint to Fanny’s gauchness.
Aside from his pop career, Campbell has cut his teeth in musical theatre in a number of productions including Guys and Dolls and Chicago. His role of Nick reprises his appearance from the Funny Girl production at the Savoy Theatre. He brings an old style charm to the role and shows some acting kudos as he woos the naïve Fanny.
Set designer Michael Pavelka and costume designer Matthew Wright should take bows for evoking Fanny’s journey from 1920s vaudeville to 1930s super stardom.
Choreographer Lynne Page captures the slapstick of the young Fanny counterpointed by the elegance of the chorus, and even includes a delightful tap dance routine from Eddie.
The closing minutes of this production are simply stunning as Smith brings Fanny from the pits of despair to determined diva in a few short verses.
The full house at the Playhouse was on its feet – everyone. Smith was in tears as she took her calls. Sheer class, absolutely unmissable.
Funny Girl, Edinburgh Playhouse, until Saturday 22 April