Following Sheridan Smith’s temporary departure from smash-hit musical Funny Girl, now playing at the Savoy Theatre, first cover Natasha J Barnes is stepping up to fill Smith’s shoes in the iconic role of Fanny Brice. Smith’s role in the show has been well-documented in the past few days, with the producers of Funny Girl releasing an official statement today explaining her absence.
After covering her role for the past three performances, Barnes is due to take over as Fanny for the next 2-4 weeks. Barnes covered the role during the show’s final week at the Menier Chocolate Factory, earning riotous praise from audiences who dubbed her as a star in the making.
At only 25, Barnes’ career has already seen her grace several West End stages, most notably as Anna in the original London cast of Spring Awakening at the Novello Theatre and as Heather in the recent run of American Idiot at the Arts Theatre. Further credits include appearances in popular television shows Doctors and Doc Martin. Barnes has also starred in several productions at Theatre Royal Stratford East, has been directed by Alan Ayckbourn in The Boy Who Fell into a Book at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, and has also wowed audiences with her impressive voice as Svetlana in Chess at the Union Theatre.
Funny Girl is Barnes’ second venture with director Michael Mayer, who previously helmed the successful Spring Awakening at the Lyric Hammersmith and Novello Theatre, which also starred Aneurin Barnard and Charlotte Wakefield. Funny Girl appears to be Barnes’ big break, as she has already been able to perform in an unprecedented amount of shows.
Covering for Smith must be hugely daunting, particularly for a show such as Funny Girl, where Smith is the star vehicle. However both audiences and critics alike have praised her for her unique portrayal of the role, with Mark Shenton describing her as “a quirky, young Imelda Staunton, burning with a quiet intensity, heartbreakingly good acting and a singing voice that reminded me of the great, late Judy Garland.”
We wish Natasha an amazing run for the next few weeks and hope that Sheridan Smith gets better soon!