No one’s going to rain on Sheridan Smith’s parade: this is the best female performance to be seen in the West End since Imelda Staunton’s triumphant Oliver-winning performance as Momma Rose in Gypsy on the same stage.
Michael Mayer’s loving, delicately nuanced production began life in a shrink-wrapped version at the Menier Chocolate Factory last Christmas. Though a West End transfer was announced even before it opened, it was able to find its feet at the Menier and now, on the wider, taller stage of the Savoy, it has much more room to breathe.
What felt constrained before has now been unleashed; Lynne Page’s previously pocket-sized choreography now has a more expansive reach, in every sense – and Joel Montague, turning agile double cartwheels as Fanny’s best friend and co-star Eddie, doesn’t have to bump into the walls, either.
Smith’s performance is extraordinarily warm and alternately heartbreaking and heart-stopping, as Fanny Brice, the Brooklyn-born Ziegfeld showgirl turned superstar, a role famously originated on stage and screen by Barbra Streisand.
Smith invests her with so much vulnerability, honesty and fearlessness that we are utterly involved in her story. She nails the big numbers that Streisand seemingly made a lifetime purchase on, including that timeless paean to seeking validation People, and the ferocious statement of personal determination against adversity that is Don’t Rain on My Parade.
Mayer’s superbly cast production is not just a one-woman show: it brings its theatrical backstage world to fully-inhabited life, with robust support from Darius Campbell as her gambler husband, and affecting and affectionate work, too, from the trio of Marilyn Cutts, Valda Avis and Gay Soper as Fanny’s mother and neighbours.