Music by Jules Styne
Lyrics by Bob Merrill
Book by Isobel Lennart
Directed by Michael Meyer
Set design by Michael Pavelka
Choreography by Lynn Page
Menier Chocolate Factory, London
Friday 29th January 2016, evening
Menier Chocolate Factory theatre, Southwark, London
Sheridan Smith as Fanny Bryce
Darius Campbell as Nick Arnstein
Joel Montague as Eddy Ryan
Marilyn Cutts as Mrs Rose Brice
Gay Soper as Mrs Strakosh
Valda Avicks as Mrs Meeker
Bruce Montague as Florenz Zeigield
Maurice Lane as Mr Keeney / Actor
Natasha Barnes as Emma / Mrs Nadler
Lukec Fetherste as John / Cornet Man / Ensemble
Matthew Croke as Renaldi / Cornet Man / Ensemble
Rebecca Fennelly as Bubbles / Ensemble
Sammy Kelly as Mimsey Ensemble
Joelle Dyson as Ensemble
Leah Harris as Ensemble
Kelly Homewood as Leah / Esemble
Stuart Ramsey as Director / Paul / Esemble
Dominic Cavendish (Daily Telegraph) said:
At a stroke – well, over the course of two and half exhilarating hours – she has done what no actress has managed to do since this musical’s 1964 Broadway premiere. That is, follow in Barbra Streisand’s footsteps as the irrepressible Ziegfeld Follies comedienne Fanny Brice and, not only play the part for the first time on the London stage in 50 years, but do so with such terrific aplomb that she has finally laid to rest the idea that no one but Streisand (who made her name in the role) could pull it off.
Sheridan Smith as Fanny Brice
We booked entirely for Sheridan Smith. The best Titania we’ve seen. Her singing voice was proved in TV’s Cilla as well as the stage Shop of Horrors. Her comedy ability shines from Little Shop of Horrors to Gavin & Stacey and Benidorm. Fanny Brice was a great comedienne and she needs this ability in the first act. The second act brings out her serious tragic acting as seen in The C-Word, and Black Work in 2015.
Zero interest in the actual musical. We re-watched Barbra Streisand’s film version in preparation. We didn’t like it at all back then, and didn’t like it much now either. Generic 60s musical music, apart from People, enlivened by Streisand’s talent. It must have been better live on Broadway. Jules Styne also composed Gypsy also running at the moment. Our reaction to the original Chichester run of Gypsy was similar: wonderful production, great performers but the music underwhelms me. The theme is much the same too.
The basis for this production was for Sheridan Smith to create Fanny Brice, NOT to imitate Barbra Streisand doing Fanny Brice. That is the right way to do it. It sold out its entire Menier Chocolate Factory run in one day. We pressed the refresh button for ages to get tickets and it was worth it. It’s on its way to a run in the bigger Savoy Theatre in the West End, and I’ll be surprised if it doesn’t end up on Broadway. The musical is intrinsically a star vehicle and few have Sheridan Smith’s star quality and charisma. She got an instant 100% standing ovation at the end.
The Cornet Man – see what I mean about her costumes
Most reviewers prefer the comic first act, and that’s built into the book, as the most entertaining part of her story. Casting was visually great. The chorus of six girls were universally tall, towering over Sheridan. Darius Campbell as her charming gambler husband, Nick Arnstein, towered over her too. The three male dancers were tall. It made Fanny Brice look small, and she’s supposed to be “not pretty” which is very hard for Sheridan to do, but they gave her a tight perm and awkward costumes. We thought her costumes accentuated this deliberately – they were mostly not flattering, which is the role, but having seen her as a very glamorous and sexy Titania, it would have been good to give her more flattering costumes once she had become a star, which she is in act two. A bit more transformation.
Sheidan Smith is the show. To both of us, far more interesting than Streisand on film too. In Act Two, the “soldiers number” Rat-tat-tat-tat is spectacular with the bright green uniforms giving a splash of strong colour absent elsewhere. Smith’s Private Schwarz in baggy trousers and falling moustache was hilarious with great audience interaction. As reviews have said, she sings with less full-on volume than Streisand, but with better attention to the lyrics and greater subtlety, noticeably on People and Don’t Rain On My Parade and Funny Girl.
We had let Darius Campbell, playing her husband, pass us by entirely, though he apparently has a platinum album and a number one single and five top ten singles. He has one hell of a voice.
Nick Arnstein (Darius Campbell) and Fanny Brice (Sheridan Smith)
The three elderly ladies are a sub-chorus of their own, with Marilyn Cutts shining as her mother, Rose Brice, ably supported by her card-playing pals Mrs Strakosh (Gay Soer) and Mrs Meeker (Valda Aviks).
It was a pity that the first-rate band were hidden from view, stage right in the wings. They had keyboard, bass, drums, two trumpets, three reeds, trombone and violin. The drum work was particularly excellent (Matt French) accenting strongly at all the right moments, but it all sounded superb.
Near the end: the costumes really don’t make it
As a showcase for Sheridan Smith, it allows her to give a full on five star performance. It lifts Funny Girl in is first appearance on the British professional stage in 50 years to a 4 star overall – but it’s the intrinsic book and 60s Broadway music (already past its sell by date when it was written) that takes it down from a full five. This production and its star, for us, beats the film hands down. Sheridan Smith was singing People during the curtain call and encouraging people to sing along. We did go away humming it.
Glossy, attractive, but over-priced at £5, which is £1 over the going rate. Very full bios, but just the one short essay on the historical Fanny Brice. Not up to RSC, NT or Globe standards on content. By the time they get to the Savoy Theatre they should replace the inevitable rehearsal photos with production shots fromthe Menier.
The theatre was stiflingly hot on the evening. It’s hard to judge temperature at this time of year, but at the interval we were desperate for fresh air and joined quite a large group inhaling deeply outside and complaining of the heat.
SHERIDAN SMITH ON THIS BLOG
A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Michael Grandage Company, 2013, Titania