Every once in a while, pieces of ‘event theatre’ come around. Wednesday night at the Savoy was one of them.
As a full house gathered for the West End opening of Funny Girl, the excitement was palpable. This production had a limited run at the Menier Chocolate Factory from November until March; it announced its transfer before a single performance and received rave reviews once it did officially open. It was undoubtedly one of the most hotly anticipated West End shows in recent years.
Hype can be a dangerous thing, however – notably proven in Lyndsey Turner’s 2015 Hamlet starring Benedict Cumberbatch, where the production as a whole was not saved by impressive turns from the cast. It can also be difficult to transfer from an intimate space to a much larger venue. Happily, Funny Girl succeeds on both counts. Not only is it a vibrant production, effortlessly brought to life by a thrilling ensemble, but it fits into its new home perfectly. It seems only right to pay tribute to such a remarkable lady in a setting as exquisite as the Savoy Theatre.
Funny Girl charts the early stage life of Broadway star Fanny Brice and her relationship with Nick Arnstein. Set in the early twentieth century, it has the look of one of the classic stage shows, but somehow manages to feel like a brand new show at the same time. Harvey Fierstein (Kinky Boots, amongst others) has revised aspects of the book, which may go some way to explaining this.
Matthew Wright’s costume design is pitch-perfect; there are some truly stunning pieces on show, particularly for the stage performance numbers. The set is beautiful; Michael Pavelka’s design is not only aesthetically pleasing but it is well thought out on the practical side. There are two moving walkways from stage left to right, which add an extra dimension to Lynne Page’s dynamic choreography.
Joel Montague is endearing as Brice’s long-term friend & dancer Eddie Ryan. The trio of Mrs Brice, Mrs Strakosh & Mrs Meeker (Marilyn Cutts, Gay Soper & Valda Aviks) provide regular entertaining intervals, which prove to be real highlights of the show. Nick Arnstein, gambler & businessman, is Fanny’s romantic interest in this staged part of her life – in this role Darius Campbell has the air of a Hollywood golden age leading man. At times maybe a little out of place, but it shows Nick as a strong character and more than a match for Fanny.
I could easily have devoted the entire review to its leading lady, Sheridan Smith. There is probably nobody more perfectly suited to bringing Fanny Brice back to the stage. Had the musical not been first produced over 50 years ago, you’d be convinced the part was written especially for her. She’s a bundle of energy, with the full repertoire of facial expressions as well as the ability to fill the room with poignancy. Ultimately the story is an inspiring one, of success against the odds, and Smith is adept at portraying every facet of Brice’s character. She makes the audience comfortable straightaway with her wonderful sense of comedy, and takes you on an emotional journey with absolute ease. Her voice is stunning and is showcased perfectly in numerous set piece numbers; Don’t Rain On My Parade is enough to induce goosebumps. The standout performance of 2016 so far, and unlikely to be beaten any time soon.
My verdict? A complete dream of a show that tugs on your heartstrings but thoroughly entertains – nobody’s going to rain on this funny girl’s parade!
Funny Girl runs at the Savoy Theatre until 8 October 2016. Tickets are available from the box office or online. A limited number of stalls day seats are available to buy in person for £15 from 10am each day.