Tuesday, 22 December 2015

REVIEW - Funny Girl at the Menier Chocolate Factory


IT hasn't been staged in London for almost 50 years but now the Menier Chocolate Factory has revived musical Funny Girl and it's an absolute cracker.
Directed by Michael Mayer and starring Sheridan Smith it tells the story of 1920s Jewish girl Fanny Brice who while she may not have the model looks, she is determined to be a success on the Broadway stage.
Through guts, hard knocks and a not inconsiderable amount of chutzpah she rose from the Lower East Side of New York to achieve her goal of becoming the star of the Ziegfeld Follies and along the way catches the eye of conman Nicky Arnstein.
They fall in love and get married but in the end their love is doomed because of his gambling and her trying to bail him out all the time.
Although the story is a bit flimsy and lacks depth, it is one full of humour and poignancy and this is a classy production.
It has a great set with two almost constantly moving travelators, opulent costumes and packs in what could be seen as a large cast onto the small Menier stage.
The score too, by Jule Styne and Bob Merrill, features an aray of memorable numbers not least People, Don't Rain On My Parade and You Are Woman, I Am Man.
The entire cast is superb. Sheridan Smith is utterly fabulous as Fanny and really makes the part her own. Indeed she brings her character alive with a glorious combination of comic timing, vulnerability and a beautiful singing voice - not to mention her "36 facial expressions".
Her renditions of People and Don't Rain On My Parade were wonderfully done and the whole piece was performed with incredible energy and enthusiasm.
She also lays to rest the spectre of Barbara Streisand whose performance as Fanny Brice in the 1960s propelled her to fame.
Smith is ably supported by Darius Campbell as the flawed Nicky and Joel Montague as her childhood friend Eddie Ryan.
Other highlights are the three card-playing ladies - Gay Soper, Valda Aviks and Marilyn Cutts as Fanny's mum - who are hilarious and full of joie de vivre.

Funny Girl is on at the Menier Chocolate Factory, Southwark Street until March 5 and then at teh Savoy Theatre from April 8. Visit www.menierchocolatefactory.com or call the box office on 020 7378 1713 for full listings.

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