Sheridan Smith’s best stage roles as her new musical Opening Night makes its West End debut

Sheridan Smith in opening night (Jan Versweyveld)

Theaterland is always buzzing when a new Sheridan Smith show is in the works. The 42-year-old British actor has spent her stellar 25-year career starring in musicals, plays, TV shows and films, winning two Oliviers, two International Emmys, a BAFTA and a National Television Award along the way. She has also released two music albums, both of which entered the top 20 of the UK album charts.

Now she returns to the stage in Opening Night, a new musical based on John Cassavetes’ 1977 film, which premieres tomorrow at the Gielgud Theater. The new show features a book and direction by Tony and Olivier award-winning Belgian director Ivo van Hove, and music and lyrics by Rufus Wainwright.

Smith stars as Myrtle, an actor whose life is derailed by the death of a fan just days before the opening of a new play. “I knew I had to do the play as a way to take control of what I was going through,” Smith told an article, in which she touched on her own 2016 breakdown. “I was so ashamed of that time. I have to prove that I’m not that person. It was very cathartic.”

On the eve of what promises to be yet another extraordinary performance, we look at the actor’s best roles over the years.

In the forest (1998-1999)

Sheridan Smith as Little Red Riding Hood in Into The Woods (courtesy of the Donmar Warehouse, photographer Ivan Kyncl)Sheridan Smith as Little Red Riding Hood in Into The Woods (courtesy of the Donmar Warehouse, photographer Ivan Kyncl)

Sheridan Smith as Little Red Riding Hood in Into The Woods (courtesy of the Donmar Warehouse, photographer Ivan Kyncl)

In her first major stage role, 17-year-old Smith played Little Red Riding Hood in The Donmar’s 1998 production of Into the Woods. Stephen Sondheim’s musical, with a book by James Lapine, interweaves several fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm and has been revived on stage many times since its Broadway premiere in 1987. The production was directed by John Crowley and nominated for an Olivier Award. In a 2021 interview, Smith said that when she met Sondheim, she greeted him with, “Hello, Steve!”. He apparently replied, “I take it you’re playing Little Red Riding Hood?”

Little Shop of Horrors (2006-2007)

Romance blossoms: unlikely lovers AudreyRomance blossoms: unlikely lovers Audrey

Romance blossoms: unlikely lovers Audrey

This horror comedy rock musical premiered on Broadway in 1982 and in the West End the following year. When it returned to the West End in 2007, Smith starred as shop assistant Audrey, who works in a run-down flower shop with her colleague Seymour (Paul Keating). Alistair McGowan played Audrey’s sadistic dentist boyfriend, Orin. The performance put 25-year-old Smith on the map: she was nominated for the Olivier Award for Best Actress in a Musical.

Legally Blonde (2009–2011)

Just the card: Sheridan Smith in Legally BlondeJust the card: Sheridan Smith in Legally Blonde

Just the card: Sheridan Smith in Legally Blonde

It was a role that seemed like it was made for Smith. She played Elle Woods, starring in the original London cast when the Broadway musical, an adaptation of the hit film, transferred to the West End.

When her boyfriend breaks up with her and says she’s not serious enough to be a wife, Elle applies to Harvard Law School to prove him wrong.

“Sheridan Smith is emphatically the star of the show,” said the Standard. ‘Elle says Red Bull is her favorite drink, and everything Smith does has a caffeinated kick. It is a performance of great warmth and enthusiasm.”

She was nominated for an Evening Standard Theater Award for the first time and won the Olivier for Best Actress in a Musical.

Flare Path (2011)

This 2011 revival of Terence Rattigan’s World War II play marked Trevon Nunn’s debut as artistic director of Theater Royal Haymarket and was chosen to mark what would have been the British writer’s 100th birthday. The film also starred Sienna Miller, James Purefoy and Harry Hadden-Paton, and was so popular that the series was renewed to meet demand.

Smith shone in the love triangle between a film star, a pilot and his wife: “The best performance comes from Sheridan Smith as the Count’s wife, Doris,” said the Standard. “Smith always radiates a warm presence and mischievous charm, but in her moments of doubt and sadness proves almost hurtfully moving.” Smith won Best Actress at the Evening Standard Theater Awards for the role and also an Olivier, two in two years.

Hedda Gabler (2012)

Daniel Lapaine and Sheridan Smith in Hedda Gabler (Alastair Muir)Daniel Lapaine and Sheridan Smith in Hedda Gabler (Alastair Muir)

Daniel Lapaine and Sheridan Smith in Hedda Gabler (Alastair Muir)

Ibsen’s 1890 play follows Hedda, a woman who feels trapped in a loveless marriage. This staging at The Old Vic received good reviews (directed by Anna Mackmin and adapted from a 2008 script adaptation by Brian Friel), and again it was Smith who won the most praise: “Sheridan Smith is hardly a new face, but here, in her most ambitious role yet, she confirms herself as one of the stage stars of her generation. She is simply electrifying in Ibsen’s portrait of a woman rebelling against a callous and rigid world,” the Standard said.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream (2013)

    (Johan Persson)    (Johan Persson)

(Johan Persson)

A Midsummer Night’s Dream was acclaimed director Michael Grandage’s fourth show of the season at the Noël Coward Theatre. Smith starred alongside David Walliams as Bottom, and with 1960s music and a hippie aesthetic (joints included), it was undoubtedly a fresh take on Shakespeare’s classic comedy.

But while some reviewers loved it, describing the piece as a ‘sexy dream’ and a ‘constant feast for the eyes’, others, such as the Standard, felt it lacked magic. What was agreed upon was Smith’s success playing Titania (as is tradition, she also played Hippolyta): “As Hippolyta, ruler of the Amazons, Smith looks like an extra from Mad Men,” said the Standard. “But once the action moves to the chaotic forest, it becomes a different story, as she brings both bohemian power and effortless charm to Titania, queen of the fairies.”

Funny Girl (2015-2017)

As Fanny Brice in Funny Girl (Marc Brenner)As Fanny Brice in Funny Girl (Marc Brenner)

As Fanny Brice in Funny Girl (Marc Brenner)

This 1964 musical reinterprets the life of Broadway star Fanny Brice and reveals her turbulent relationship with gambler Nicky Arnstein. It was a hit from the start: Barbara Streisand starred in the original production, which earned eight Tony Award nominations. In the UK, Smith played Brice for a number of years as the production transferred from the Menier Chocolate Factory to the Savoy Theater and then toured the UK.

“Sheridan Smith is one of British theater’s truly golden performers – a versatile star who impresses with her ability to be sensitive, moving and hilarious at the same time. Here she is in glorious form,” said the Standard in its four-star review.

Shirley Valentine (2023)

    (Helen Murray)    (Helen Murray)

(Helen Murray)

The Standard’s Nick Curtis might have found fault with the way the story of a working-class Liverpool housewife on holiday in Greece had aged, but he was effusive in his praise of Smith’s performance.

At last year’s revival of Willy Russell’s 1986 play at the Duke of York’s Theatre, she held the audience in the palm of her hand and was praised by critics for her charm and conviction: ‘With almost any other actress I suspect it So it would be unobtrusive, patronizing and old-fashioned,” said Curtis.

Opening night, Gielgud TheaterMarch 27 to July 27; buy tickets here

Leave a Comment