Review: Funny Girl (Savoy Theatre, London)

Starting at Menier Chocolate Factory, this transfer follows a string of high profile revivals at the Savoy Theatre. Funny Girl, starring woman of the moment Sheridan Smith, charts the rise of wannabe actress Fanny Brice and her relationship smooth talker and gambler Nick Arnstein.

Direction by Michael Mayer – On the whole there’s some fine direction by Mayer at work. The production on the whole feels well paced and there are enough showy moments to balance out the slight lulls that come from quite a monotonous book. Still, it suffers from having come from a humbler setting, and more work could have been done to adapt it to the larger space.

Written by Isobel Lennard and Harvey Fierstein – This isn’t the strongest musical book out there, and it suffers from quite inconsistent pacing. It’s also incredibly top heavy, with far more detailed exposition in the first half when compared to the second.

Set design by Michael Pavelka and Lighting design by Mark Henderson – Pavelka had done well to make the most of the limited space in the Menier, but in the larger Savoy, it’s clear that it was designed for somewhere else. There is however some nice use of the travelators to add some dynamism to the staging. Henderson’s lighting design is perfectly functional but less than inspired.

Choreography by Lynne Page – Page’s choreography isn’t really given the attention it deserves, but during the limited number of ensemble pieces (most notably the party in Fanny’s neighbourhood) it shines through and brings the stage to life.

Music by Jules Styne – I’m not going to pretend this is the strongest musical out there because it isn’t, and I came out knowing the couple of songs I went in knowing. So while there’s nothing offensive about Styne’s work, it’s serviceable at best.

The cast – There’s a lot of buzz about this and it all comes down to Sheridan Smith. The entire run is largely sold out and that ultimately comes down to her casting. I’m pleased to say the buzz here is deserved, and while she may not be the strongest singer, that doesn’t really matter. Her presence is felt throughout and the emotion she pumps into the role in the second act is more honest than I’ve seen on stage before. Cast includes:

  • Sheridan Smith (Fanny Brice)
  • Darius Campbell (Nick Arnstein)
  • Marilyn Cutts (Mrs Brice)
  • Bruce Montague (Florenz Ziegfeld)

Verdict: ★★★★☆

It’s far from perfect and it almost had a three star score, but it’s the emotional and hilarious performance by the leading lady that keeps a production that could have been relatively routine from being a dud. Don’t go if you’re looking for big and showy.

And the view…

Upper circle, row a, seat 23.  I can see how the bar would be more of a problem for those less vertically gifted, but overall this was a decent seat. The only problem was the comfort of the seat and the odd downwards curve of the circle meant that I spent most of the time trying to stay upright.

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