FUNNY GIRL - August Wilson Theatre
Sooner or later, every play seems to get a Broadway revival, including “Funny Girl”, the 1964 bio-musical about Ziegfeld comedian Fanny Brice. After nearly 60 years, the show that catapulted a young Barbra Streisand to stardom is back, making a good case for why it wasn’t revived before: the book is not among Broadway’s best and there is only one Barbra Streisand.
A thoroughly likable Beanie Feldstein who tackles the Brice role is adequate. Songs have been rearranged for her, and, where her voice lacks nuance or depth, she compensates by singing big. It’s not her fault that one can’t listen to the show’s signature songs (music by Jules Styne, lyrics by Bob Merrill), “People” and “Don’t Rain on My Parade”, without Streisand’s original recording playing like a loop inside one’s head.
The original book by Isobel Lennart that contrasts Brice’s rise from vaudeville to Ziegfeld’s Follies with her disintegrating marriage with gambler Nicky Arnstein, has been tinkered with by Harvey Feinstein (some new one liners here and there) but the plot’s the reliable one that most know from the 1968 movie version. Here Nicky is played by an exceptionally handsome Ramin Karimloo, who strips “the groom was prettier than the bride” (a lyric from "Sadie, Sadie") of any metaphoric import.
Wisely, director Michael Mayer expands Nicky’s role, taking advantage of Karimloo’s rich, bari-tenor range. The dance highlights of the show are the tap numbers choreographed by Ayodele Casel. A tap solo by Fanny’s manager Eddie Ryan played by a dynamite Jared Grimes is a welcome surprise in Act 1. Grimes shines again in Act 2 in “Who Taught Her Everything She Knows”; a tap duet with Fanny’s mother, played by Jane Lynch who seems to be concentrating too much on hitting her marks. The big production number - and most satisfying moments of the show - is “Rat-Tat-Tat-Tat” a full ensemble tap blowout.
Feldstein is at her best with the concluding, pre-finale “The Music Makes Me Dance” with its bittersweet melody. As Brice reflects on her carreer success but marriage failure, characters from the story saunter like ghosts in the background. One recalls the extravagant eerie spectacle of grand vaudeville achieved in the most recent fabulous revival of “Follies” at the National Theatre. But in this ordinary and uninspired Broadway revival of “Funny Girl” that is but a dream out of reach.