As opening lines go, “Hello Gorgeous” is as iconic as it gets, when Sheridan Smith greets her reflection as Fanny Brice in The Menier Chocolate Factory’s production of Funny Girl, writes Fiona Leckerman.
This is the only nod to Barbara Streisand that she makes as she looks through her dressing room mirror to the audience, acknowledging in those two words the part that catapulted Streisand to stardom, but from the moment it escapes Smith’s lips there is no further need for comparison; she quite simply personifies the role of Fanny Brice with every nuance and every note.
Such perfection is rarely found in a performance and is even more pronounced by the marvel of this musical.
Funny Girl, a loosely biographic tale of Fanny Brice, tells the story of her ascension to fame, focusing on her love affair with the darkly charming Nick Arnstein, played by a broodingly suave, but slightly two-dimensional Darius Campbell.
First performed on Broadway in 1964 with Streisand at its helm and subsequently immortalised on screen, winning her an Oscar, this is the musical’s first outing onto the London stage in 50 years -selling out in a matter of hours and set to transfer to the West End in April.
Is it possible for a musical that was performed 50 years ago about an actress in the 1920s to still hold true today?
Once you strip away the exceptional score, the faultless company (Joel Montague as Eddie is superb and the trio of Marilyn Cutts as Mrs Brice, Valda Aviks as Mrs Meeker and Gay Soper as Mrs Strakosh are wit and timing personified), beautifully accurate period costumes and most economic and inventive use of a small stage,, what is left is the story and whether its themes remain relevant -and the answer is yes.
The exclusion of Brice’s most famous song My Man (which Streisand ends the film with) helps to reinforce the character of Brice, as both strong and brave.
We follow her determination throughout from I’m the Greatest Star to Don’t Rain on my Parade, even though Brice knows her flaws, she utilises her strength as the funny girl to make a success of herself, all of which are epitomised in the emotionally-charged finale.
Funny Girl is everything a musical should be, bringing the backstage musical to life while leaving its audience humming in the aisles.
There’ll be no rain on Sheridan Smith’s parade -only the showers of praise and awards she deserves.