“Funny Girl the Musical” comes to the Edinburgh Playhouse: Sheridan Smith is a shining superstar in this fabulous 5 star show
It is extraordinary how the storyline of many Musicals is about the fine art of show business. “ A Star is Born,” the hit movie about an aspiring actress, Esther Blodgett who arrives in Hollywood to make her name; “42nd Street” tells the story of Peggy Sawyer, a talented young performer with gets her big break on Broadway; “Cabaret” where Sally Bowles tries her luck in a Berlin nightclub; “A Chorus Line” dramatising the tough audition for 17 hopefuls to be cast in a Musical …. the list is endless.
“Funny Girl” is based on the true life of Broadway star, Fanny Brice (1891-1951), who was born Fania Borach, daughter of Jewish Hungarian immigrants, from the lower East side, New York City. When she was just 13 years old, she won a talent contest at Keeney’s Theatre, soon leading to a long, successful career on the Vaudeville stage.
The premiere of “Funny Girl” opened on Broadway in March 1964 with Barbra Streisand as Fanny, a dazzling performance which won her an Oscar as best actress in the film version. After phenomenal 5 star reviews for the recent revival of the Musical in London, Sheridan Smith brings her equally dazzling performance as Fanny in this touring production at the Edinburgh Playhouse.
The action begins is 1927, in Fanny’s dressing room at the New Amsterdam Theater, New York. Sitting in front of a brightly lit mirror, she reminisces on her long journey to stardom. We travel in flashback to her childhood home, where her mother observes the young Fanny, in pigtails, baggy sweater and knickerbocker pants, day-dreaming a life in showbusiness. But Mrs Brice believes this is out of her reach. “Fanny, when people buy a ticket for the theatre, especially the male element, they want something to look at, …. if a girl isn’t pretty, like a Miss Atlantic City, all she gets is pity and a pat.”
But undeterred, she has a passion for life in the spotlight: “That’s where I live, on stage,” says the young wannabee, “I’m the greatest star, I am by far, but no one knows it.”
At an audition for a show, compared to the prettty, slender, size zero chorus dancers, Fanny is smaller, plumper and ungainly, as she attempts to join in a slick ensemble number. Sheridan is simply marvellous, with flailing arms and clumsy footwork, her dance steps are out of time and kilter. But she has a cookie, quick witted talent as a bright, bubbly comedienne.
“Being a funny person does an awful lot of things to you. You feel that you mustn’t get serious with people. They don’t expect it from you. You’re a clown.” Fanny Brice.
The narrative follows her struggle on and off stage, trying to be treated seriously as an all round Burlesque – Music Hall performer at Keeney’s Theatre, Brooklyn, then moving on to be leading lady at the Ziegfeld Follies on Broadway. Her unconventionality as a natural entertainer warms her to Producers and audiences alike.
She also attracts the dashing Nick Arnstein, a successful (or so it seems) gambler dealing in cards, dice and the horses, brilliantly portrayed by Darius Campbell as a sophisticated, suave, smooth operator. In an hilarious seduction scene, Fanny tries to escape his clutches on the velvet “casting couch”, but quickly falls for his charm, reflected in a deliciously romantic duet “You Are Woman, I Am Man.”
The entire company is excellent with some delightful cameo character roles (e.g. Mr Ziegfeld, Mrs Brice and her card sharp friends, Mrs Meeker and Mrs Strakosh),. Slickly directed and crisply choreographed, the fast paced scene-changes are neatly done, from restaurant to railway station, with luggage, tables, sofas and stage props magically sliding on and off, with a wardrobe of glamorous costumes shifting through time from c.1910 to the late twenties.
From the opening bars of the Overture, the melodious score flows along with several well known numbers such as ‘People” and the stunning torch song, ‘Don’t Rain on My Parade’. While Fanny’s story is dramatised as a light and frothy comic caper, the heartfelt songs bring a truthful poignancy, unveiling the mask of a clown to show her private feelings through a lifetime of memories.
Centre stage is the brightly shining Sheridan Smith, who acts, dances, sings, and makes us laugh out loud. This very Funny Girl is utterly flawless, an incomparable actress, comedienne and musical superstar; Sheridan Smith is the new Judy Garland of our age.
Funny Girl, Edinburgh Playhouse, 18 – 22 April, 2017