Funny Girl tells the story of Fanny Brice, an actress who takes Broadway by storm with her knack for comedy. Funny women are in no shortage on the West End but sometimes get pushed aside by the more dramatic and tragic roles such as Fantine in Les Miserables and Kim in Miss Saigon. These hilarious roles should be appreciated more, especially as comedy has traditionally been a male-dominated zone for many years. Here’s my pick of four amazing and funny female roles from the West End’s past and present.
Fanny Brice – Funny Girl
Made famous by Barbra Streisand in the 1964 Broadway production and 1968 film, Funny Girl is actually a semi-biographical musical about the real Fanny Brice, a Broadway and film actress/comedienne. The show is opening for its first ever revival in the West End at the Savoy Theatre in April starring the fabulous Sheridan Smith. It’s sure to be amazing watching her belt out those big and often comic numbers like I’m The Greatest Star and Don’t Rain On My Parade.
Donna Sheridan – Mamma Mia!
From one Sheridan to another, Donna is the bold single mother whose worst nightmare comes to life as three men of her past show up at her daughter’s wedding. She is the definition of an independent woman and has bags of charm as the quirky, dungaree wearing owner of a slightly chaotic Greek hotel. Meryl Streep played her in the much loved film adaptation and Dianne Pilkington is currently starring as Donna at the Novello Theatre. However Donna’s capacity as a comic character is greatly increased by the addition of her Dynamos, Rosie and Tanya! Together they make quite the trio, all giving chuckle-worthy performances of Dancing Queen and Money, Money, Money. Other songs such as Take A Chance On Me, Mamma Mia and Does Your Mother Know prove they are just as funny on their own as well as a girl band.
Elle Woods – Legally Blonde
Another Sheridan Smith mention here, that woman is practically the definition of a strong and funny female lead! Elle Woods is the ditzy blonde who decides to study law at Harvard when her boyfriend breaks up with her. Her journey from a shallow sorority girl to a fully-fledged law student is a hilarious one and songs like Bend and Snap and Omigod You Guys show this best. it was the show that established Sheridan Smith as a West End star, as she won Best Actress in a Musical at the Olivier Awards.
Lauren – Kinky Boots
Lauren is a relatively new addition to the world of theatre but definitely one of the funniest. Her whole personality has the audience in stitches and Amy Lennox plays her incredibly at the Adelphi Theatre. She isn’t the lead in Kinky Boots but her song, The History Of Wrong Guys, is easily one of the best and most memorable songs. I think Lauren was one of my favourite comedic performances of 2015!
Nell Gwynn – Nell Gwynn
Gemma Arterton is set to take on the title role in Nell Gwynn, a play about one of the first English actresses ever to grace the stage and a long time of Charles II’s mistresses. A naturally feisty and bold character, Nell was a trailblazer for women in theatre as she paved the way for modern actresses to be accepted onto the stage. The play is transferring to the Apollo Theatre in February, from a hit run at the Globe and is sure to draw a large audience.
Sheridan Smith is a real jewel in the crown of British theatre and is sure to give another amazing and funny performance in Funny Girl as Broadway legend Fanny Brice. From her start on TV in shows like Gavin and Stacey and Two Pints of Lager and A Packet of Crisps, to Cilla and her BAFTA award winning performance as Mrs Biggs, Sheridan has showed that she is worthy of her OBE. This girl has her roots firmly planted in show business, both of her parents were country and western singers and she was interested in the performing arts from an early age, despite never attending a drama school.
Make sure you catch her in Funny Girl at the Savoy Theatre when it opens in April as well as the other amazing amazing leading ladies mentioned. There are so many brilliant female performers in the West End at the moment and we’re so lucky to be able to see them in some of these fantastically written roles. The West End is the number one place for fresh, exciting talent to emerge, so keep your eyes peeled for more hilarious and feisty women who will captivate British theatre in years to come.
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