“Feels like we could go on for forever this way”
Over the past decade, Sheridan Smith has established herself as one of the UK’s finest actresses. From comedies such as The Royle Family, Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps and Gavin & Stacey, she has graduated to BAFTA-winning success in Mrs Biggs, Cilla and this year’s exceptional The Moorside. And onstage, she’s a 4-time Olivier Award nominee and 2-time winner, being recognised for her work in both plays – Flare Path – and musicals – Legally Blonde. Now she has the music world in her sights as she releases her debut album Sheridan.
There’s returns to the material that has justly made her reputation. Her impassioned take on Cilla Black’s swinging ‘Anyone Who Had a Heart’ remains an absolute joy and a full-throated rendition of Funny Girl’s ‘My Man’ recalls the energy of her Fanny Brice. It feels she is most at home in the torch song arena though, and whether in the oldies (Timi Yuro’s ‘Hurt’, The Carpenters’ ‘Superstar’) or newer tracks (Rufus Wainwright’s ‘Dinner at Eight’), the tone of her lower register glows with charismatic warmth. With producer Tris Penna and co-producer, arranger and musical director Steve Sidwell, there’s a real appreciation for the collation of music that suits Smith and really does create a harmonious whole.
This restrained approach suits her well with the pair of Pasek and Paul compositions featured here. The more famous (in the UK at least) is La La Land’s ‘City of Stars’, her subtle vocal contrasted with the big band arrangement to beautiful effect but for me it’s the driving emotion of ‘For Forever’ from hit Broadway musical Dear Evan Hansen that emerges as a real highlight in all its gorgeous yearning hope. Jazz standard ‘I Smell a Rat’ offers a welcome change of pace, and subtle humour comes from efficient takes on Noël Coward’s ‘Mad About the Boy’ and Robert Palmer’s ‘Addicted to Love’.
But there’s a bold statement too coming from the song choices that bookend Sheridan. There’s a wry knowingness to putting a song called ‘Crazy’ at the top of the record but the rearrangement of Gnarls Barkley’s pop hit works beautifully. And then to round things off is a dramatically stark reinterpretation of Dreamgirls‘ showstopper ‘And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going’, stripped of all its showboating and consequently raw as a nerve. Every quiver in Smith’s voice is left in, in this deeply personal piano-led version, reminding us how emotional a performer she is and what power that brings to her work. A stunning debut.