THE HAPPIEST PEOPLE OF ALL…
For half a generation there has been a truism in the musical theatre world that nobody can do Jule Style and Bob Merrill’s FUNNY GIRL, because Streisand played the 1920’s eccentrically comic Ziegfeld star and nobody can beat her. So why try? Thus not many have done so: one Broadway revival got “postponed”. But nothing daunts the Menier, fount of daring musical revivals. Michael Meyer from New York directs, the Savoy transfer is already in the bag, and the starring role is our secret weapon: Britain’s own high-voltage electric waif, Sheridan Smith.
She nails it: every wisecrack and every nuance, and she takes several opportunities for sly, new and very British moments: for instance when the dashing Arnstein (Darius Campbell, looking about 8ft tall) has first impressed her with his ruffled dress shirt, she coos that even his fingernails are polished: and then allows herself the tiniest moue, as a girl does when a heart-throb seems potentially too camply groomed for safety. She acts every song, hurls every long money-note into a gasping auditorium, and brings truth to every emotion, turning on a sixpence from brash jokey confidence to anxious selfconsciousness as her love-match flowers (what a seduction scene!) and then goes sour.
Matthew Wright’s costume and hair design artfully make Smith look dumpier than she could ever be in real life, closer to the dynamic plain-girl that Brice must be. Next to a superbly tall ensemble of chorus girls and boys, and even more alongside Arnstein, she is almost dwarfed. Her early galumphings and deliberate ungainliness – remember Smith’s masterly deployment of ‘comedy legs’ in Legally Blonde all those years ago – can shade into professional grace, and comedically snap back again.
Mayer keeps it moving, the ensemble neatly dancing scenery and props on and off with Lynne Page’s choreography whirling, tapping, offering sudden glorious jokes like the Rat-tat-tat-tat soldier number, a brilliantly absurd bit of ballet and above all the Henry Street party . Where the old ladies Meeker, Bride and Srakosh are glorious: Valda Aviks, Gay Soper and Marilyn Cutts, the latter celebrating fifty years onstage. Joel Montague is a touching, skilful Eddie, Bruce Montague the great Ziegfeld (“The headdress is too tall for the arch? Raise the arch!”).
Alan Williams leads a ten-piece band, and – well, we all left very happy. Obviously we did: Sheridan Smith made us all, for a brief moment as we stood to cheer, join in the last bellow of “…are the happiest people of all!”
Sold out at Menier 0207 378 1713: booking fast at Savoy Theatre till July