“She may have gone out an understudy, but she came back a star”.
Julian Marsh’s famous declaration to Peggy Sawyer in 42nd STREET sums up Natasha J Barnes’ fairytale rise since taking over the lead role of Fanny Brice in the West End transfer of FUNNY GIRL by his month at the Savoy Theatre due to Sheridan Smith’s recent sabbatical due to health issues. It’s also a line a few London critics have been using in their praise of her performance.
Natasha is no novice to the stage, appearing in AMERICAN IDOL, CHESS and SPRING AWAKENING and was Sheridan’s understudy in the Menier Chocolate Factory run before the West End transfer.
Initially she faced disgruntled ticket holders who had paid to see Sheridan play the role immortalised by Barbara Streisand in the 1964 Broadway production and subsequent film.
“I’ve certainly never seen a more beautiful performer than Sheridan,” said Natasha, “but I have real faith in the audience and I honestly feel that no matter how disappointed people might feel that they booked to see her and got me they will find a way of enjoying the show. They’ve got two hours of me so I’m going to do the best that I can do.”
And do her best she certainly did, receiving a standing ovation. She stunned the critics and judging by social media, using the old show biz cliche, ‘a star is born.’
“The 25 year-old isn’t just a serviceable stand-in, she’s a sensation in her own right, every bit as good as Sheridan Smith” wrote The Telegraph’s Dominic Cavendish. “She has a radiant charisma and twinkling mischief that’s irresistible.”
The added piquancy is that her whirlwind story is akin to that being played out on stage, the bio-drama of the early 20th century American vaudeville star Fanny Brice.
Celia Walden, also in The Telegraph said “with her heart-shaped face, impish smile and little curvy body could pass as Smith’s sister.”
When I was drawing this sketch I thought she had more than a passing resemblance to Imelda Staunton who some critics have likened her both physically and performance wise.
I joined a supportive crowd at the stage door after Saturday’s matinee where mutual appreciation flowed. Natasha seemed genuinely overwhelmed with the adoration and was more than happy to sign my sketch.