Funny Girl continues at the Milton Keynes Theatre until 4 March, then tours until 19 August.
Star rating: five stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Following smash-hit runs at the Menier Chocolate Factory and the Savoy, Funny Girl comes to the Milton Keynes Theatre as the second stop on its nationwide tour.
The show stars Sheridan Smith as singer and comedienne Fanny Brice, spanning the performer’s life and career from hopeless chorus girl to star of The Ziegfeld Follies and her turbulent relationship with troubled husband Nick Arnstein (Chris Peluso.)
The Cilla and Mrs Biggs star was forced to withdraw from the role for a portion of the show’s run at the Savoy due to illness, and there were a few murmurs of concern before curtain up as to whether or not the star would be appearing on press night. But as the overture came to an end and Fanny took to the stage, it wasn’t long before every concern was quelled and the audience was sitting comfortably in the palm of her hand.
With Jule Styne and Bob Merrill’s legendary score boasting such standards as ‘People’ and ‘Don’t Rain on My Parade’, Smith has faced no mean feat in tackling the much-coveted role.
Backed by a potent 11-piece band, she demonstrates an impressive vocal ability and, while she doesn’t always make it look easy, Smith delivers her numbers with such warmth and genuine charm that it is near impossible for anyone in the room not to root for her.
Each beat is played with such a combination of expressiveness, heartbreaking honesty, comic timing and charisma that even in Fanny’s darkest moments it’s hard not to raise a smile at the sheer moxie on display here.
Though one could be forgiven for seeing this merely as a star vehicle for the much-lauded Smith, there a few standout performances amongst some of the more incidental characters.
Rachel Izen puts in a particularly memorable performance as the hearty Mrs Brice, Fanny’s firm but supportive mother, and Joshua Lay impresses as the hapless Eddie Ryan, the comedienne’s friend and dance coach.
The pair shine brightest during their duet ‘Who Taught Her Everything She Knows?’, a rare non-Smith centric highlight in which Eddie and Mrs Brice share their mixed feelings about Fanny’s stratospheric rise to stardom.
Elsewhere Chris Peluso, fresh from his portrayal as the eponymous Death in the musical version of Death Takes a Holiday at the Charing Cross Theatre, provides a smooth foil to the boisterous Fanny as her lover Nick Arnstein, the professional gambler with dwindling luck. He is let down only by a slightly awkward gait not in keeping with his superb skill as a dancer.
Michael Pavelka’s set (a series of lopsided mirrored proscenia) lends the production a striking visual flair, each arch reflecting and amplifying the effect of Lynne Page’s spectacularly choreographed dance sequences, particularly during the showstopping ‘Henry Street’.
This is surely one of the tightest ensembles that can be seen in the musical theatre today, and from curtain up to curtain call you’d be hard pressed to not be enthralled by the remarkable individual performances on display here and the sheer scale of it all.
And with Smith on fine form, this is a production that others will have to go some lengths to reckon with.
Readers may also be interested in: Funny Girl tour extended – News