When most people think of Funny Girl it is probably inevitable that they think of Barbra Streisand who played musical comedy star Fanny Brice in the Broadway Production of 1964 and went on to win an oscar for the movie of the same name. Songs such as ‘People’ and ‘Rain On My Parade’ are so synonymous with Streisand, that I wondered whether the new Funny Girl revival, that has recently transferred to the beautiful Art Deco surroundings of the Savoy Theatre in London, would suffer in comparison.
My only experience of Sheridan Smith was as a television actress notably in Mrs Biggs, Gavin and Stacey and of course playing Cilla Black. Having watched her playing Cilla I knew that she could sing but there is singing on television and there is commanding a stage. I need not have worried. From the moment Sheridan takes the stage, she is Fanny Brice. It would be understandable to have an actress offer up a performance of Streisand’s interpretation of Fanny Brice but Smith doesn’t do this. Funny Girl is taken back to its Broadway roots. It is Brice’s story, albeit a somewhat fictional account of her rise to fame and subsequent marriage to gambler Nick Arnstein, played with a delicate light and shade from Darius Campbell. Yes, it is he of Pop Idol fame.
Darius delivers a very strong performance but the stage belongs to Sheridan Smith. I have rarely seen an actress so totally inhabit a character in musical theatre. From her walk, her superb comic timing and her delivery of each song, Sheridan does not miss a beat. She is actually so good that you barely notice the rest of the cast and they deserve to be noticed for they are truly excellent, particularly Marilyn Cutts who plays Fanny’s mother and Joel Montague who plays Eddie.
The musical itself is a game of two halves as the first half is the thrill of the chase, Fanny chasing fame and Nick Arnstein. A riotous and joyful ride of delicious comedy and gorgeous songs stunningly delivered. The second half of the show centres on the breakdown of her marriage and is tender and poignant but lacks the punch of the opening act. The staging is smart, suggesting hints of Vaudeville, a Brooklyn tenement and the opulence of the Ziegfeld Follies without using much more than costumes and some clever movements across the stage. The whole show is carried beautifully by a stunning central performance as Sheridan Smith is one of those stage performers that the audience loves from the minute she sets foot on that stage to the final lung busting notes. The standing ovation was immediate and heartfelt. I would heartily recommend Funny Girl. Sheridan Smith is a special talent on a stage and that is not to be missed.
High up in the God’s, this wonderful theatre (The Savoy) is currently housing the renowned and critically acclaimed ‘Gypsy’ starring Imelda Staunton. With tickets selling fast, it was understandable that such a lengthy theatre in height was filling up every night, and so my interest continued escalating.
The story behind Gypsy is based upon true events of the Burlesque actress, Gypsy Rose Lee. Taken from her memoirs, the musical sees the hardship and struggle of Louise (later to become Gypsy) as the shadow of her performing sister, and her determined Mother, struggling to keep grips with her youth and dream of stardom. Events take place, where Rose and Gypsy happen to be in the right place at the right time to perform in the House of Burlesque, where Gypsy is created. This tale of triumph, difficult beginnings and relationships hits every nerve and every feeling.
The staging itself was beautiful and very clever. Scenes appeared and disappeared with a never ending back stage, floating into the shadows and were simple yet effective in illustrating the different areas. No expense has been spared on these ever changing scenes which are rarely used twice, to bring the sense of the character’s constant travelling. Lighting beautifully enhanced specific characters and areas, drawing your eye to the correct moment and to the specific details of the performance. Costumes were also relatable to the times and enhanced each character’s personality correctly. The end costumes of Gypsy, are astounding and lavish – what every vintage loving girl dreams of wearing (including myself!).
Of course, a review could not be written without mentioning Ms Staunton herself. And where could I start? Well known in the acting world, some may have seen her in the likes of Vera Drake and the more contemporary, Harry Potter- it is well known what a fantastic actress she is and the passion and creative skill she has for her characters and projects. However, to see her as Rose, the mother in Gypsy, is something different. Something spell bounding. To quote a patron I heard on the night:
‘I knew she could act but… I didn’t know she could do that! THAT was … something else!’.
Staunton has what myself was unknown of, and that is an incredible voice! Singing every song sent shivers down your spine; her final song, ‘Rose’s Turn’ raised every goose bump and every hair.
Laura Pulver, as Gypsy also brought an amazing depth to the show. Perhaps easy to be in the shadow of Staunton, she makes Gypsy her own and stands out in her own right. Known for shows such as Sherlock and Robin Hood, Pulver brings a completely difference essence to the stage than what you see on television. Her dramatic change from mousey Louise, slowly to sultry Gypsy Rose Lee is fantastic in her change of personality, look, body language and even change in her voice. She shows, simplistically but in a very talented way the growth in age and maturity of the character, so convincingly that it is hard to forget this truth when you feel as if you are growing with her.
If you do anything with yourself till November, make a date with Gypsy. The musical will take you under her spell as Gypsy Rose Lee was known well to do herself.