I have been a huge fan of Barbra Streisand for as long as I can remember. This is largely due to my sister who played her records on constant repeat. We even used to take it in turns to sing the duet of You Don’t Bring Me Flowers, one of us being Neil Diamond and the other being Barbra Streisand more often than I would care to admit. Less said about that the better!
So when the news came that the musical Funny Girl, the first film that Streisand starred in, was coming to the Wales Millennium Centre, there was no way in the world we were going to miss it.
Up until its recent revival on the West End, Funny Girl has not been on the stage since the 1960s, when Streisand herself played the part of Fanny Brice from Brooklyn who rises to fame as a comedic Broadway star.
Streisand then went on to make her own global stardom, playing the character in the film version in 1968. Not only was it a case of a ‘star is born’, but she had firmly immortalised the role of Fanny Brice as her own and won a Best Actress Oscar for her performance.
It wasn’t until the brave and talented Sheridan Smith took to the role in the West End in November 2015 that someone dared follow in the steps of Streisand. Of course Sheridan Smith already has a successful string of stage roles under her belt including Little Shop of Horrors, Modern Millie and Legally Blonde, and as expected with her acting and singing talents she had no trouble in putting her own stamp on the lead role.
Loosely based on a true story, the musical tells the tale of the loveable and quirky Fanny Brice who during her rise to stage fame with the famous Follies falls for the suave and sophisticated gambler Nick Arnstein. Smith’s faultless comic timing, vulnerability, goofiness and amazing vocal abilities all come together so that you are captivated by her performance from the very start.
The first half, whilst over an hour and a half, absolutely flies by and, in truth, holds most of the action. It is here that you are treated to a heartfelt rendition of ‘People’, hilarious comic timing with ‘His Love Makes me Beautiful’ and ‘You are Women and I am Man’, and ending with a gutsy performance of the classic ‘Don’t Rain on My Parade’.
Whilst there is clearly only one star in the show, with the whole performance resting firmly on the shoulders of Smith, her co stars also give strong supporting performances.
The love interest Nick Arnstein, played by Darius Campbell, who first rose to fame in Pop Idol, provides an almost perfect fit for the role that was originally played by Omar Shariff in the film version; but with the advantage of Campbell having a much better voice. The duet between Smith and Campbell is perhaps the most touching moment of the second half.
The show ended with a bang with a short but powerful repeat rendition of ‘Don’t Rain on My Parade’ from Sheridan, guaranteeing a well deserved standing ovation from a packed house.
For any fans of the musical film Funny Girl, seeing it on stage is an absolute must see. For anyone not familiar with the story, with Smith at the helm, it is still a must see. Go and see it, you will not be disappointed!
But don’t just take my word for it, here’s what others have had to say:
“Sheridan Smith triumphantly reinvents Brice for a new generation of musical theatre lovers, conveying with skill and heart this entertainer’s emotive blend of professional success and personal vulnerability.”
– Fiona Mountford, The Evening Standard
“Sheridan Smith brings to the role her own brand of exuberant mischief and spiritual warmth. Where audiences admired Streisand, they palpably adore Smith.” – Michael Billington, The Guardian
“Smith has impeccable sense of comic timing; she also has an impressive grasp of musical phrasing. She brings an infectious aura of delight to the early hymn to self I’m the Greatest Star, sets tears in her eyes as she sounds the lonely pathos of People, and raises the roof as high as the nearby Shard for the act one closer Don’t Rain on My Parade”. – Dominic Cavendish, The Telegraph
Funny Girl is showing in The Wales Millennium Centre until Saturday 8th July. For more information visit: www.wmc.org.uk
(All pictures provided courtesy of The Wales Millennium Centre)