Theatre

Funny Girl

The Playhouse, Edinburgh

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Neil Cooper

five stars

THERE is something infinitely special about Michael Mayer's touring revival of his smash hit 2015 production of composer Jule Styne and lyricist Bob Merrill's myth-making 1964 musical. This is the case from the moment Sheridan Smith steps unassumingly from the shadows as 1920s Broadway sensation Fanny Brice. When Smith sits down at Fanny's dressing room mirror and utters the show's immortal “Hello gorgeous” greeting to herself, it is as if both women are switching themselves on to the spotlight.

It is this utter possession of her character that makes Smith's portrayal of Fanny so captivating. As she rewinds to her early days as a gawky New York bundle of adolescent energy, every facial gurn and every clumsy spin is alive to the possibility of success. Smith's entire body conveys Fanny's self-effacing and sometimes needy vibrancy in a way that can't help but draw people to her. It doesn't matter that her doomed romance with Darius Campbell's matinee idol-styled Nick Arnstein becomes the stuff of high-end soap operas involving shady deals in gambling dens. With Isobel Lennart's book revised by Harvey Fierstein, this is eminently watchable, even through its longueurs.

Much of this watchability is down to Smith, who manages to be both vulnerable and vivacious, and appear fearless and fragile, all in the capricious skip of a low-attention-span heart-beat. Every line is delivered with a physical tic or a roll of the eye that makes for comic perfection. Fanny and Nick's first act stumblebum courtship astride a chaise longue is a particular hoot. It is when Smith is onstage alone, however, that we see both her and her character fully take flight in an irresistible tale of showbiz survival.