Funny Girl

The National Tour hits LA

Written by:
Karen Weinstein
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True confessions of a theater critic: I saw neither the original production, nor have I seen the movie, Funny Girl. Therefore, I offer no in depth comparisons of the current production to the 1964 original or the movie. I cannot comment on how much the material originally benefited from having Barbra Streisand belting it out, nor how this one was altered by Harvey Fierstein’s recent revisions.

Fanny Brice was a vaudeville comedienne who had a long association with Flo Ziegfeld in the 20’s and 30’s and also performed in movies and on the stage. Funny Girl is a highly fictionalized and romanticized rendition of her story conceived of by her son-in-law, producer Ray Stark. Stark was finally able to convince Jule Styne to write the music. Styne was enthralled with the voice of the then little known 20 year old, Barbra Streisand, and wrote with her wide vocal range in mind. It was a tough role for anyone else, or a successor, to match. When the musical debuted, Fanny Brice was still a household name to large percentage of the audience. I wondered how many in the Ahmanson audience this week knows, or cares about, Fanny Brice, the real person.

Never mind, pump up the amps. Flash the double row of lights, rimmed in red, that surround the proscenium. Play every number as though it were a grand finale. They will stamp. They will applaud and seem to be having a great time. Maybe that is what is needed in these fractured times. A steady diet of Gaza, Ukraine, partisan politics, and climate change gets hard to take. Funny Girl entertains. Maybe the Ziegfeld girls are not quite up to current Las Vegas standards, their hearts are in it. Izaiah Montaque Harris dishes up a fabulous tap solo that will make you smile. Melissa Manchester is a very credible Mrs. Brice, even if Fanny’s mother was not actually a poor woman from the Eastside. So what if the vocals are so amped not all the words are understandable, you will get the gist. If you do not exactly know who Fanny Brice was, does it matter that her husband was unattractive in real life? That she knew he was a crook before they married? That her story was not the rags to riches one portrayed before you? It will take your mind off the current state of the world.

Funny Girl does not rank up with the musicals of Sondheim, Rogers and Hammerstein, or Learner and Lowe. Maybe that is the reason it took a long time for a revival. But it is an escape and maybe that is all that is needed.
Karen Weinstein

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