Funny Girl – Review – Junction Goole (Satellite Screening)
By Rachael Popow, October 2018
Taking on a role previously associated with Barbra Streisand is no easy task, but it can be done. Lady Gaga currently has cinema-goers sobbing into their popcorn in the latest remake of A Star Is Born, while Sheridan Smith wowed a sold-out audience at Junction in Goole in a screening of her stage revival of Funny Girl.
If anything, Sheridan had the harder task. While the 1970s take on A Star Is Born is generally considered to be the weakest of the four versions, Funny Girl looms very large in the Streisand legend. The musical based on the life of vaudeville star Fanny Brice turned her into a Broadway sensation when it opened in 1964 and then four years later provided her with an Oscar-winning film debut. She’s so inextricably linked with it that Sheridan’s version is the first major revival in 50 years.
Luckily, the Epworth-born actress proved to be worth the wait, by turns hilarious and heartbreaking as Brice, the ambitious comedienne who found success on the stage while struggling in her personal life.
She makes a convincing vaudevillian in the numbers that form Brice’s comedy act, such as ‘His Love Makes Me Beautiful’ and ‘Rat-Tat-Tat-Tat’, although the funniest moments probably come in the seduction scene of ‘You Are Woman’, where she milks a pause to winningly bawdy effect.
And by showing how Brice keeps up the comedy mannerisms off stage, she makes it all the more touching when Brice drops the act, including in slower numbers such as ‘People’.
It’s clear Funny Girl needs the right leading lady, not least to stop musical buffs comparing it to composer Jule Styne’s other show about a real-life entertainer with vaudeville roots, Gypsy. Funny Girl’s story doesn’t have as much depth – as Brice herself points out, her rise to the top is surprisingly smooth.
“Force of personality”
Even the crusty impresarios who are apt to dismiss her because she doesn’t look like a typical chorus girls are both won over in the course of one song. That means all the drama has to come from her relationship with gambler Nick Arnstein, and while Darius Campbell is suitably charming in the role (and had the woman sitting next to me googling him in the interval to find out if he’d done any other musicals to have honed his skills so well since his TV singing contest days), the character’s feeling of being emasculated by his wife’s success isn’t particularly sympathetic to a modern audience.
But Sheridan makes the show work through sheer force of personality. Maybe we’ll be in for another long wait before the next Funny Girl, as, like Streisand before her, she’s going to be a very hard act to follow.