Fanny Brice – Sheridan Smith
Nick Arnstein – Tom Partridge (Understudy)
Eddie Ryan – Joshua Lay
Florenz Ziegfeld – Nigel Barber
On 3rd August 2015, it was announced that Sheridan Smith would star in a revival of Jule Styne and Bob Merrill’s acclaimed musical Funny Girl at the Menier Chocolate Factory. In a completely sold out run, Smith was hailed as the perfect Fanny Brice – a role most famously embodied by Barbra Streisand and not performed on the West End since the 1960s. However, due to personal reasons (which sadly were not kept a secret from the public), Smith was absent from the final week of performances at the Menier, and her understudy Natasha J Barnes took her place.
Following a West End transfer, Funny Girl opened at the Savoy on 20th April 2016 starring Sheridan Smith. However, it was soon announced that Smith was to take a 2-4 week break from the show due to ‘stress and exhaustion’. In the meantime, Natasha J Barnes again took Smith’s place. After a break which turned into almost 3 months, Sheridan Smith eventually returned to the Savoy to continue playing Fanny Brice. Natasha J Barnes also stayed on, playing Monday evening performances for the remainder of the run.
It was during Smith’s break that I had the pleasure of seeing Natasha J Barnes perform as Fanny Brice in a performance which was simply flawless.
Following two extensions at the Savoy, the show closed on 8th October, but not before the announcement of a UK tour. The tour is now over half way through and has just completed a sold-out week at the Birmingham Hippodrome. Sheridan Smith and Natasha J Barnes are alternating the role of Fanny Brice depending on the venue.
As soon as the UK tour was announced, I was certain I wanted to see it again after having been incredibly impressed at the West End production. It wasn’t until after I had got tickets that the cast for the Birmingham Hippodrome dates was confirmed; Sheridan Smith would be playing Fanny. I was incredibly excited at this announcement, as it would mean I’d have the chance to see both actresses playing this iconic role.
Funny Girl tells the story of singer and comedienne Fanny Brice’s rise to fame and her tumultuous relationship with her gambler-husband Nick Arnstein. The show is packed with iconic musical numbers such as I’m The Greatest Star, People, and Don’t Rain On My Parade.
At the Friday night performance, the role of Nick Arnstein was played by Tom Partridge, Darius Campbell’s understudy. Darius Campbell played opposite Natasha Barnes in the performance I saw at the Savoy last summer, meaning I got an entirely new leading lady and leading man this time around. It was a joy to watch Smith and Partridge together; their on-stage chemistry was palpable.
Sheridan Smith’s comic timing is impeccable, with a particularly hilarious, innuendo-filled rendition of You Are Woman, I Am Man. The role of Fanny Brice has not been played on the West End since Barbra Streisand’s star turn in 1966, and Sheridan Smith is the perfect actress to recreate the famed comedienne. In a musical which was written for the incomparable voice of Streisand, Smith’s voice soars, especially during Don’t Rain On My Parade and the Finale.
The show is also filled with feel-good ensemble numbers such as His Love Makes Me Beautiful and Henry Street, and opens with an unbeatable overture. The audience’s reaction to Sheridan Smith at the curtain call was phenomenal. She received rapturous applause and a standing ovation from every single audience member. And never was a standing ovation more deserved.
The current tour of Funny Girl continues across the UK until 19th August. It ends at the Manchester Palace Theatre, where Sheridan Smith will play her final performance as Fanny Brice.