As the audience took their seats last night, there was a palpable excitement in the atmosphere. And as the band struck up, under the sublime musical direction of Ben Van Tienen, we were transported to 1920s New York. For over two and a half hours our eyes were transfixed as Funny Girl graced the Hippodrome’s stage in all its wonderful glory.
An endearing tale of one young girl’s journey from stage-struck teenager to star of the Follies, Funny Girl is packed with boundless energy, yet tinged with sadness. Fanny Brice is a young Jewish girl, desperate for her chance in the spotlight, but with a slightly quirkier disposition to your typical chorus girl, her rise to fame comes out of her faultless talent for comedy. Who better to step into a role like this than the undeniably talented Sheridan Smith? She delivered an absolute masterclass in performance, and even in the larger Hippodrome auditorium you were sucked into her story. It was intimate and beautiful. Her comic timing is second to none and there was not one hilarious quirk, twitch or gurn missed. Not only that, coupled with vocals that soared through the theatre, her performances of some of the most iconic songs from this striking soundtrack were stunning. Particular highlights included People and Don’t Rain On My Parade, delivered with sheer vim and verve. Paired with Darius Campbell, as her love interest and eventual husband Nick Arnstein, their relationship on stage was tender and captivating. They complemented each other well and their rendition of You Are Woman, I Am Man was utterly brilliant.
There was an abundance of outstanding performances from the rest of the cast, notably Rachel Izen as Fanny’s mother and Joshua Lay as the haplessly lovelorn Eddie Ryan. Desperately seeking his chance with Fanny Brice, he never quite manages to ‘win the girl.’ Lay’s dancing is exceptional, and between him and Izen they create an unlikely, yet comical duo in Who Taught Her Everything She Knows? with Izen’s impressive vocal range shining.
Special mentions also to the Cornet Men (Peter Nash and Lloyd Davies), who, alongside Smith, created a fantastic trio in Cornet Man, Brice’s debut performance. It’s these little asides throughout that hold some of the funniest physical comedy. From a pregnant bride to a mustachioed bloke, Smith transitions through these characters faultlessly.
As the story moves along, the ingenious set from Michael Pavelka seamlessly transforms from train station, to theatre, to dressing room, with very simple touches. Heightened by the lighting from Mark Henderson and costumes from Matthew Wright, it is vibrant and colourful throughout. Under the direction of Michael Mayer and effective choreography from Lynne Page, the show is undeniably slick and glorious to watch.
Theatre that takes you from rolling with laughter to tears rolling down your cheek is something quite magical. And that was all epitomised in this exquisite performance. Smith has something special; she is undoubtedly one of ‘the greatest stars’ and with a closing scene that displays such glorious resilience, Funny Girl is a superlative show that must be seen.
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