“Funny Girl” may be the musical with the highest name recognition that has yet to experience a Broadway revival.
The original production ran for over 1300 performances from 1964 into 1967 and made a star out of Barbra Streisand, who left the production in 1965, played the role in London, and landed an Oscar for the film version in 1968.
Streisand never returned to the stage outside of concerts. And the show never found its way back to the Great White Way. A tour featuring Debbie Gibson closed on the road in 1996 after only a month. Lauren Ambrose was scheduled for another production in 2012 but that didn’t pan out. And during the run of “Glee” there was persistent talk of “Funny Girl” being the vehicle that would bring Lea Michele back to the stage (She even sang at the Tony Awards).
The show has inherent challenges. Telling the heavily fictionalized story of real-life comic Fanny Brice, much of “Funny Girl” is set around the Ziegfeld Follies. Cutting corners isn’t really an option both in cast size and in production values. Some of the gender politics are retro to a point of embarrassment, even by musical theater standards. And then there’s the Streisand legacy.
But while a New York revival remains unlikely, moviegoers fresh from commenting on Lady Gaga’s take on Barbra Streisand role in “A Star is Born” will soon have another opportunity to see how a contemporary actress handles the iconic Streisand role–and perhaps forget about Streisand, at least temporarily.
Meneir Chocolate Factory—the London theater that breathed new life into “La Cage aux Folles,” “Merrily We Roll Along,” “The Color Purple,” and more—took a swing at the show and turned it, once again, into a hit. After opening in 2015, it sold out its entire run, transferred, extended, and toured.
On Oct. 24, Trafalgar Releasing sends that production of “Funny Girl” to movie theaters.
And while the show still has second-act problems (even with a revised book by Harvey Fierstein), it doesn’t have a Streisand imitator at its core. Instead, the producers wisely opted to cast the part more toward Brice than Babs.
Sheridan Smith may not be well known here in the States, but she’s picked up awards for British TV shows including “Mrs. Biggs,” and starred on stage in “Legally Blonde,” “Into the Woods,” and “Little Shop of Horrors.” She mugs her way through much of the show but it becomes clear quickly that its insecure Brice mugging, not the actress. Her Brice seems afraid to stop moving and joking for fear of what she might find and her inner anguish comes through in heart-rending renditions of the show’s signature songs “People” (singing about what she wants rather, perhaps, than what she believes) and “Don’t Rain on My Parade” (which, here, is more about building up confidence rather than displaying it). Her smile keeps pushing but Sheridan’s talent make clear what’s underneath.
It’s not that she doubts—she knows—that she’s not in her beau Nicky Arnstein’s league. And her performance almost makes up for the flaws in the script and in the leading man’s stiff performance. She’s not afraid to let Brice be awkward–to push too hard.
The solid, familiar song stack, genuinely funny moments, and Sheridan’s commitment make this stage-to-screen transfer worth seeing.
And I hope this doesn’t sound like I’m raining on its parade, but even with the unique star turn at its core, it never convinced me that “Funny Girl” deserves the large-scale revival that its fans are unlikely to get any time soon.
Still, it beats most cinematic musicals. Here’s to more opportunities for the rest of the world to see what’s cooking on stages around the globe.
For theater information, click here.