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Filling the shoes of Barbara Streisand, the original Fanny Brice, is a monumental task in itself but multi-award winning actress Sheridan Smith rises to the challenge and thoroughly makes the role her own. Not as strong vocally as the American recording legend (who is?)Smith nevertheless wooed the audience as she made the part her own.
Smith’s instinctive touch for comedy and her instant likeability won the appreciative Liverpool audience over within minutes of treading the boards and why shouldn’t she? The actress’ meteoric rise to fame, especially through Two Pints of Lager… and Cilla meant that she was virtually playing at home and could not put a foot wrong. Whilst she excelled, as too did the strong ensemble, the same could not be said for the over-stretched plot no matter how disguised by the strong production values and well-known numbers such as Peopleand the song which rounded off the first act Don’t Rain on my Parade.
It has to be said that the storyline is thin. Eventhe show’s underlying themes of self-confidence, gender and class stereotypingfail to surface enough to make a difference.
The wannabe musical star, Fanny Brice, is introduced to the audience as an ugly duckling youngster who has an almost megalomaniacal ambition to play Broadway. Despite her small stature, low self-confidence in her appearance and lack of stage training, she has a heartfelt destiny to fill but this is not a journey without heartbreak. Along the way Fanny meets her love interest and roguish man-about-town Nick Arnstein, played with consummate caddishness by Chris Peluso,one of life’s chancers and ultimate losers with an eye for the ladies anda quick buck.It’s an unlikely pairingand if it is to work with the audience, like other aspects of the plot, a certain suspension of belief is essential.
This criticism to one side, the play is above all a vehicle for its star to shine and shine she did! It is difficult to recall a time when so much warmth was shared between audience and star; they willed her on and she responded magnificently, particularly in the stronger first act as Fannywent from an unknown but ambitious Brooklyn girl to comedienne and star of the Ziegfeld Follies. Smith has great comedy timing and her witty verbal asides and physical humour, so much a part of her natural repertoire, kept the laughter rolling in.The second act, slower and with less commotion than the first gave Smith the opportunity to show off her vulnerability and full emotional range as Arnstein final revealed his true self.Smith has the talent to switch fromlaughter to tears in a heartbeat and to take the audience along with her.
A special mention should also be made of the multi-talented Joshua Laywho played Eddie for bringing his character to life so convincingly through his expert song and dance vaudeville skills.
This musical is far from being a classic but it is well worth seeing, to be able say that you have seen live on stage, one of the finest young actresses working today at the peak of her powers.