|Image Source: West End Theatre|
Genre: Comedy Drama
Date: March 8 2017
Location: Liverpool Empire Theatre
Funny Girl first debuted on Broadway way back in 1964, making its West End bow in 1966. However, it has only recently been revived, so the vast majority of those seeing the show on its current run will be doing so for the first time. But regardless of whether you're a newbie to Funny Girl or if you actually saw the show back in the sixties, you're in for a real treat.
Set in New York City shortly after World War I, Funny Girl tells the story of Fanny Brice (played here by Sheridan Smith). Having been considered an outcast due to her not-exactly-supermodel figure and her occasionally overbearing yet amusing nature, Brice is initially ignored but uses her quirks and sheer talent to earn a job within vaudeville. Despite advice suggesting that she couldn't cope with the potential downsides of fame and theatre, Fanny is insistent on following this unexpected career path, which sees both her name value and financial fortune grow. At the same time, she bumps into businessman and gambler Nick Arnstein (played by Chris Peluso) on several occasions, which eventually leads to a romance between the two and, later, marriage and motherhood. Taken off her feet by Nick, Fanny risks her career and everything she has worked for to be with Nick and to help him. However, it is Nick whose life is more affected by their marriage, as a combination of Fanny's controlling nature and some unfortunate incidents relating to his business lead to a series of events which put a strain on their relationship and, ultimately, their futures.
The story is essentially one of two halves: the first half has a huge emphasis on comedy, largely provided by the Fanny character, whereas the second half, whilst having some amusing scenes, has a greater focus on drama, particularly in the final quarter. There are quite a few songs throughout the show, not just during Fanny's vaudeville routines but also during transitional scenes, with singing and dancing provided not only by Fanny and Nick but also some of the secondary characters, such as Mrs Nadler (Jennifer Harding) and Eddie Ryan (Joshua Lay).
Sheridan Smith is the undisputed star of the show, and her character and her performance as a whole make the show a big success. Her material is funny (no pun intended), but she throws herself into the role; as a matter of fact, I genuinely was wondering if somebody else was playing Fanny because from my vantage point, it didn't look like Sheridan, and the mannerisms, American twang and general appearance of Fanny seemed very different to Sheridan, even when Smith is playing a character totally different to her actual self. That is quite the compliment: Sheridan is so convincing, so believable, and so unique as Fanny that you believe Fanny is a real person, rather than someone playing her (although this is based on a true story about the actual Fanny Brice). That she is very entertaining, from her OTT dance manoeuvres to her quick-wit and one-line quips to her loveable nature while messing up in an almost clueless fashion, makes her character one of the more memorable that you will see on the theatre stage, and although the supporting cast (led by Chris Peluso, who is excellent as the business-like yet generous and well-intentioned Nick Arnstein) are very good as well, the show is a major success because of Sheridan as Fanny.
Elsewhere, the settings are simple but effective, with a slanted image changing based on the scenes from a theatre backdrop to the front room of a mansion (where Fanny and Nick end up). The costumes were of a high standard, which included the deliberately comical attires sported by Fanny during some of her vaudeville routines. I thought the running time was a little on the long side; the first half lasted almost 90 minutes, so it probably could have been streamlined a bit and the show as a whole likely would not have suffered. Not that its length mattered as the audience was captivated throughout the entire thing, with standing ovations at various points as well as loud laughs and audible emotions during the sadder scenes (as well as a fair amount of coughing; I heard five coughs at once during one scene which was unusual). Amongst the stand-out songs were People, If A Girl Isn't Pretty, You Are Woman and Don't Rain On My Parade, with Fanny's second rendition of Don't Rain On My Parade probably being the standout song of the production.
Providing a mix of great comedy and real drama, backed up by some sensational singing and dancing performances, Funny Girl is a show of the highest standard and one that I would definitely recommend for all theatre aficionados.
Overall Rating: 9/10 - Outstanding