Funny Girl
The Alhambra

WITH a packed audience looking forward to seeing Sheridan Smith in hit show Funny Girl at the Alhambra last night, the news that she would not be appearing because of illness sent ripples of disappointment around the auditorium.

Show goes on at the Alhambra, as Sheridan Smith pulls out of Funny Girl due to illness

A statement from Bradford Theatres said that, following test results, it has been confirmed that Miss Smith has mumps, and on doctor’s advice will not be able to perform at the Alhambra this week.

But, as Fanny Brice herself would say, the show must go on. And what a show! Natasha J Barnes, now playing the lead role of Fanny this week, was a triumph and was visibly moved last night when her tour-de-force performance was met with a standing ovation.

Natasha - who played the role to critical acclaim in the West End, and is currently sharing it with Miss Smith on the UK tour - was a delight as the endearingly awkward, eternally optimistic 'Funny Girl'.

This is the semi-autobiographical tale of early 20th century Broadway star Fanny Brice; her rise to fame as a much-loved comic, singer and actress and her troubled relationship with handsome, debonair Nick Arnstein, a man who could charm the birds from the trees but has a fatal weakness for the gambling tables.

Michael Pavelka's fabulous set shifted the action from Fanny's Brooklyn home to the Broadway stage. The roar of the crowd was never far away, and most of Fanny's big moments were played out in the reflection of her dressing-room mirror. Even off-stage, the girl who defied expectations and captured audiences' hearts - despite or, as it turns out, because of not being pretty enough for the chorus line - used her infectious humour to defuse the dark times.

Natasha J Barnes gave a terrific performance as Fanny; goofing around with impeccable comic timing in fun song and dance numbers like Sadie Sadie and Rat-Tat-Tat-Tat, then breaking our hearts with soul-stirring performances of People, The Music That Makes Me Dance and the showstopper, Don't Rain On My Parade. With enough charisma to light up the entire Alhambra, Natasha charmed a delighted audience.

Darius Campbell was a gem as Arnstein; smooth-talking and sophisticated, he had great stage presence. And he got it just right with6 the roguish edginess that we knew wouldn't end well for Nick or Fanny.

This is a delightfully old-fashioned show, a tale blazing out of the bright lights of early 1900s New York, but with the pace and zing of a very modern musical.

Great performances too from Joshua Lay as amiable Eddie, Rachel Izen as Fanny's wise mother, and Nigel Barber as Broadway impresario Ziegfeld.

There will be those who still remember the night they saw Barbra Streisand first play Fanny Brice on Broadway in 1964, before she reprised the role for the big screen.

And there will be those who, in years to come, recall the night they saw Natasha J Barnes steal the show with her own flawless performance as the irrepressible Fanny Brice. A class act.

Runs until Saturday.