Every now and then a show comes along which is a true gem. It makes you laugh, leads to rapturous applause at the end of every number, and results in a spontaneous standing ovation which I’ve not experienced for a very, very long time. Funny Girl is just such a show. After 7 months of touring, this production is wrapping up with a final two weeks in Manchester and I was fortunate enough to attend its press night.
From the moment she stepped onto the stage, Sheridan Smith shone, with impeccable comic timing and a totally relatable character. Every quip, expression, and head tilt had me in stitches as she responded to her environment in ways that I’m sure resonates with many women. Not to mention having a remarkable strength of voice which made her songs soar, I’ll leave my gushing to say just this – fantastic.
It’s worth noting that my other half was less enamoured by the first half of the play – he enjoyed the songs and the dancing, but found Smith’s character irritating. Needless to say, he’s not exactly the target market, and he found the 2nd half considerably more enjoyable, with Rain on My Parade inevitably stuck in his head for the rest of the night.
One surprise for me was the performance by Darius Campbell. I admit I had little to no expectations of him, having just about remembered his song Colourblind and having no understanding whatsoever of his acting ability. Therefore I was very impressed firstly by his wonderfully deep voice, but also by his effortless charm and charisma. Of course, the character is written that way, but Campbell exudes a classic, timeless gentleman which is no doubt one of the reasons why he got the part. Tall, dark, and handsome, his vocals matched the 60s style even if his dancing left a bit to be desired.
The supporting cast cannot go unmentioned, as a swarm of chorus girls and stagehands transported us straight into the nostalgia of music hall. The simple yet effective set (Michael Pavelka) allowed the choreography (Lynne Page) and orchestration (Chris Walker) to take centre stage without distraction, taking us back in my opinion to the heart of theatre where the actors paint the scenery.
Every production has its highs and lows, and this wasn’t an exception – a wardrobe malfunction here, a wooden line there – but this is what makes the theatre so special and such a unique form of entertainment. Nevertheless, the surge of applause at the curtain call was testament to the quality of Funny Girl and a true indication of the quality on stage. Audiences are becoming more savvy and discerning, but this heartfelt and warm story captured a timeless and cherished atmosphere which left us all with a smile.