Review: Funny Girl

She's good but is no Streisand


Has any theatrical role been more completely owned than Fanny Brice is by Barbra Streisand? Anyone who plays the Brooklyn-born Jewish burlesque performer who became a huge star has to emerge from the shadow of Streisand, the Brooklyn-born Jewish girl who became an even bigger star.

And, in Michael Mayer's beautifully judged production, which is already slated for a West End transfer in the spring, Sheridan Smith certainly has much of what it takes to make Fanny Brice her own. Right from the first gag it is clear that Smith has the comic talent to be a funny girl. It happens when her Brice is sitting in front a back-stage changing room mirror, her face framed by lit bulbs and a fur coat collar. She is asked if she is nervous.

"Nervous? Me?," she says with a Mae West flourish, before crumpling with perfect timing into a bag of nerves. The moment is so beautifully delivered that any fears that memories of Streisand are going to stalk Smith for the entire show are immediately banished. And even though Smith may not have that vulnerable Jewish lilt - her Brice is more tomboy than nice Jewish girl -it is still a performance so full of warmth and wit, that it would be downright mean to rain on her parade.

Yet, although Smith musters impressive singing power for Jule Styne (music) and Bob Merrill's (lyrics) standout show numbers Don't Rain On My Parade and People, in the final analysis, you would have to say the voice is no better than good. With such a bravura comedic core to this evening, this wouldn't normally matter. But here it does. Because it is here, during the songs, that the spectre of Streisand's performance begins to haunt. It's not that the voice isn't as beautiful as Streisand's - whose is? - it's that it's not distinctive enough. And, while Smith's acting is a tour de force, I fear for how she would be received in New York if the show ever transfers to Broadway as Smith has said she hopes it will. There, only a few miles from Brice's and Babs's home territory, memories of Streisand will be even stronger, and one can imagine that spectre standing in the wings like a resentful understudy.

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive