“So 'stead of just kicking me why don't they give me a lift?”
The Menier Chocolate Factory’s extremely well-received production of Funny Girl has been as much beleaguered as blessed as it wound its way into the West End, garnering acres of extra publicity that the show barely needed given its impressive ticket sales and subsequently announced UK tour. But so relentless has the focus been on leading lady Sheridan Smith and her absences from the show whilst looking after her mental health, that you begin to doubt the maxim that all publicity is good publicity.
Doubtless, a conversation needs to happen about the expectations that are raised when a show is sold on the name of its star. You can argue convincingly that a production is always bigger than its star name, and understudy Natasha J Barnes deservedly got much acclaim for filling in for Fanny but the case is undermined somewhat when the producers put that name above even the show’s title on the publicity (on Broadway, you’re entitled to a refund or exchange if an above-the-title star is off…).
Which is a rather long-winded way of getting round to saying that if you missed Sheridan Smith and aren’t able to catch her before Funny Girl’s limited engagement at the Savoy ends in October, you’ll be pleased to know that a cast recording has now been released. As the first major revival of the show in London for 50 years, it’s a canny choice but even with the tinkering that has been done here to beef up some of the supporting roles, to my mind there’s no escaping the fact that it’s not necessarily the greatest of shows.
You can read more of my thoughts in my review of the show at the Menier here but much of it still stands. Sheridan Smith is very good, sometimes excellent, as Fanny, forging her own path into the role made nearly untouchably famous by Barbra Streisand but the recording doesn’t always capture the physicality of Smith’s turn which was its key strength – here, you tend to notice just a little bit that she isn’t consistently stand-out amazing vocally, which is ultimately unfair to the subtlety of the full scope of her performance.
And as beguiling vocally as Darius Campbell is as her erstwhile companion Nick, you’re left wishing the show gave him more to do for he is really very good indeed. Chris Walker’s orchestrations and Alan Williams’ arrangements for his band make the score sound fresh and there’s no denying the quality of Jules Styne’s music – ‘Don’t Rain On My Parade’, ‘People’, You Are Woman, I Am Man’, ‘Henry Street’, such songs! – but I’m still left wondering what I’m missing in not loving this Funny Girl as others do.