Funny Girl – Just Incredible At The Birmingham Hippodrome

Last night I was in the audience at the Birmingham Hippodrome to watch ‘Funny Girl’. I left feeling privileged to have watched one of the great modern theatre stars playing a role that she has made her own. Sheridan Smith is sensational as Fanny Brice, and ‘Funny Girl’ is a masterpiece. I was mesmerised from start to finish.

‘Funny Girl’ is the story of the rise of 1920s star Fanny Brice, and of her love story with the gambler and con man Nicky Arnstein. Fanny is a theatre natural, a funny girl who can also bring the house down with the beauty of her voice. Told that she was not suitable for the chorus line because she wasn’t beautiful enough, Fanny is given her chance by her friend, choreographer Eddie Ryan, who was also in love with her. Fanny becomes a star and moves to the famous Ziegfeld Follies. She also meets the man who proves to be the love of her life, Nicky Arnstein (Darius Campbell), a suave smooth talker who charms and exasperates Fanny in equal turns. Fanny has it all, fame, fortune and love, but a series of events pull Nicky to the brink, and Fanny’s overpowering love starts to stifle Nicky, changing the man who fell in love with the ‘funny girl’.

Sheridan Smith was born to play Fanny Brice. She is a pocket dynamo who dominates the stage with her powerful and expressive voice and her force of personality. She brings Fanny Brice to life in such a way that you feel that you are actually watching the return of the 1920s star, so perfect is she in this role. Her performance of key songs such as ‘People’ and ‘Don’t rain on my parade’ are extraordinary, and her comic skills shine as the pregnant bride in the Ziegfeld wedding scene, and the hilarious ‘You are Woman, I am Man’. Watching Sheridan, you are in the presence of brilliance.

In the role of Nicky Arnstein, Darius Campbell is matinee star perfect, and has great chemistry with Smith. He is smooth and self assured in the role, but also gives the character real heart which allows you to feel real sympathy for Nicky as life continues to deal him bad hand after bad hand. His beautiful singing voice is used to full effect as he effortless puts heart and soul into the songs, and his final scene is Fanny is heartbreaking, containing so much love and tenderness.

In the supporting roles Rachel Izen is strong as mother Mrs Brice, whilst Joshua Lay gives a stunning performance as Eddie Ryan, a real song and dance man who was given a spontaneous round of applause with every amazing dance routine. The set was also excellent, whether it be railway platforms or backstage at the theatre.

Funny Girl is not just another musical, it is an event that is not to be missed. You’ll be talking about it for years.

 

Birmingham Hippodrome for One week only.

Wed 10 – Sat 13 May

Click here for information

 

Shirley Valentine – A Jodie Prenger Masterclass

Jodie Prenger proved, once again, what an amazing talent she is as she brought Willy Russell’s 1980s heroine Shirley Valentine to life at the New Alex Theatre last night in a one women tour de force.

Leaving a note on a post-it on the fridge, explaining that she had ‘gone to Greece, be back in two weeks’, Shirley Valentine has proved to be one of Willy Russell’s most enduring and beloved characters. Shirley is a bored surbuban housewife who feels that life, and all it has to offer, has passed her by at the age of 42. Her kids are grown up, and she has grown apart from her husband Joe. She dreams of a time when she might have some excitement, or at least something different in her life. A ticket for a two week holiday in Greece might just bring the excitement that she needs, but will she really be able to return to her mundane life once she has had a taste of something different?

This is Shirley’s story told in a series of monologues, first in her kitchen where she is tied to the cooker and the kitchen sink and talks to the wall, and then from the beach of her Greek island escape. Jodie Prenger brings Shirley vividly and brilliantly to life as she tells those stories. She commands the stage with her sheer presence and force of personality, by turns hilarious, and by others poignant, and with a faultless Scouse accent. Prenger makes Shirley so real, funny, sympathetic and brave. As she tells those stories of Bryan and Malandra, and her husband Joe, you really root for her to go out and enjoy herself.

Even though Shirley Valentine is now over 30 years old, it still resonates – there are still plenty of Shirley’s out there, and that is why the ending is so heartwarming. You don’t really know what Shirley’s next step will be, but we do know that the downtrodden housewife has disappeared for good, and that is a brilliant thing.

 

Shirley Valentine

New Alexandra Theatre Birmingham

Until March 11th

 

Gaslight opens at the New Alex Theatre

A Victorian melodrama that was actually written in 1938 and has been filmed twice doesn’t necessarily sound like the most obvious play for a revival, But Gaslight is absolutely riviting, with excellent performances from the three leads, and a story that twists and turns and grips right from the very start.

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The action takes place over the course of one night, in the year 1871, with all events focusing on the drawing room in the home of Bella and Jack Manningham. What seems like a happy marriage is very soon shown to be anything but, as Bella is unveiled as a woman most definitely on the edge of madness, a family afflication which also affected her mother, who died a suicide. But questions are also raised by the actions of Jack Manningham, who is certainly a cruel and unfeeling husband who may just be pushing his wife headfirst into her madness. Who is really hiding precious objects in the house? Why is Bella forbidden to enter the top floor of her own home? And why do those gaslights keep flickering and dimming when Bella is alone? The arrival of a mysterious ex detective called Rough may soon answer all those questions, but will Bella find the answer before she descends into madness? This is the premise of Gaslight.

gaslight

Kara Tointon is excellent as Bella, the frail wife who suffers at the hands of her evil husband. She plays the role as the epitome of a Victorian female, fragile, subservient and helpless. Her scenes with Rupert Young as her husband Jack crackle with uneasy tension, even during their lighter moments, and her final scene is delivered with a clever weakness that is just brilliant. Rupert Young is perfect foil, a real villainous character who uses his height and build in his performance, giving Jack the air of menace that the role calls for. He also has great chemistry with the slinky, kittenish maid Nancy (Charlotte Blackledge), a saucy minx with her eyes firmly on her boss.

kara-tointon

Keith Allen is simply amazing as Rough, the visitor who turns out to be a retired detective, obsessed with a case he might just be able to solve after 20 long years. He brings humour to the proceedings, and his characterisation is both warm and genuinely funny at times, but with the right amount of menace when he confronts Jack.

The confining of the action to one room gives it a Gothic, claustrophobic air, and there are times when the tension is almost unbearable, particularly in the scene where Rough is hiding from Jack, and housekeeper Elizabeth (the excellent Helen Anderson) is trying to draw attention away from his hiding place. There are also a couple of extra surprises at the end that leave the audience feeling very satisfied – if not a little jumpy.

Gaslight is a satisfying melodrama, a real treat for dark and misty January nights.

Highly recommended.

Gaslight

New Alex Theatre

11-14th January – then touring nationwide

Click here for ticket information