Michael Mayer’s first major revival of the 1964 Broadway musical Funny Girl, premiered at the 150-seater Menier Chocolate Factory in London in 2015 and transferred to the West End’s Savoy last year. Now it sets off on a tour of some of the largest theatres in the country, kicking off at Manchester’s nearly 2,000 seater Palace Theatre, where its entire run is sold out.
That box office allure is, without question, due to the star power of Sheridan Smith, reprising her role as Fanny Brice. She had a much publicised unscheduled lengthy absence during the original London run, so her return to the role now is as much about unfinished business as it proof of her being restored to full health. And like Dolly Levi in Hello, Dolly!, it’s so great to have her back where she belongs.
More than that, as with Carol Channing’s long association with that role, it is particularly gratifying that a star who has made such a big impact is taking that performance to regional theatres, too. And it is also satisfying to see that a production and performance born in intimate setting has maintained its strengths with an intensity and rapport where it counts, but which also feels like it has expanded to fit the room.
That sense of generosity and ease stretches beyond Smith to the entire show, starting with Ben Van Tienen’s 11-strong pit band, who give full brassy heft to this gorgeous score, and continuing to Michael Pavelka’s set that uses an old-fashioned frontcloth to divide scenes and re-set them.
There’s also superb work from a company that also features Chris Peluso – seen in last year’s transfer of Show Boat – as Fanny’s husband Nick Arnstein, Joshua Lay as her devoted best friend Eddie Ryan, Rachel Izen as her mother and the irrepressible Myra Sands as Mrs Strakosh.