Producers of the hit London production of Funny Girl announced that Natasha J. Barnes will take over the lead role of Fanny Brice while original star Sheridan Smith takes two to four weeks leave of absence from the production due to “stress and exhaustion.”
Smith has missed numerous performances in recent weeks, leaving Barnes to complete the show's non-profit run at the Menier Chocolate Factory, and step in again this week after its commercial transfer to the Savoy Theatre.
Producers issued a statement saying, “The entire team at Funny Girl is thinking of Sheridan, and know she is getting the rest and support she needs during this very difficult and stressful time. We will all miss her enormously and send her our love and best wishes—and we are looking forward to her return to the show in due course.
“Meanwhile, we are thrilled to support the wonderful Natasha J. Barnes who will be taking on the role of Fanny Brice until Sheridan’s return. Natasha has been covering Sheridan in this role since the run at the Menier Chocolate Factory and has received high praise from audiences on the occasions that she has appeared. We are all certain audiences will continue to love our amazing show.”
Smith made headlines when she missed the May 9 performance on short notice. She tweeted a public apology later that night with these words: “Well done press! U let me, the cast & everyone who spent money to see me. I apologise profusely! Sorry! Sorry I'm not strong enough.”
She had been nominated the night before for the BAFTA TV Award for Leading Actress Award in the TV play The C Word for her role as cancer victim Lisa Lynch, but lost out to Suranne Jones. When The C-Word also lost to Don't Take My Baby in the best single drama category, she was challenged on Twitter and in the press for her reaction that was caught by a TV camera. She tweeted the next morning, “When will you stop bullying? I had the best night in memory of my girl Lisa Lynch.”
At 6:15 PM May 9, an hour-and-a-quarter before the performance of Funny Girl was due to begin, the Savoy Theatre tweeted, “Due to the indisposition of Sheridan Smith the role of Fanny Brice will be played by Natasha J Barnes at tonight’s performance of Funny Girl.”
The absence follows controversy over a performance she began but did not complete April 28, when it was halted after 15 minutes, and failed to resume that were attributed to technical difficulties.
For further details on Funny Girl and to book tickets, visit funnygirlthemusical.co.uk. For updates on casting, follow Savoy Theatre on Twitter @SavoyTheatreLdn.