“Funny Girl” is the musical story of Fanny Brice, an early 20th century star of film, stage, and radio, who specialized in zany comedy. The original production premiered on Broadway in 1964, starring Barbra Streisand and garnered eight Tony Award nominations. The 1968 musical film version, also starring Ms. Streisand, received eight Academy Award nominations including Best Picture and Best Actress. A musical film sequel, “Funny Lady,” again starring Ms. Streisand, was made in 1975. All three of these adaptations were produced by Ray Stark, the husband of Ms. Brice’s daughter, Frances. Jule Styne composed the score for “Funny Girl” with lyrics by Bob Merrill and book by Isobel Lennart based on audio tapes dictated by Ms. Brice. For the 2022 revival and tour, playwright-actor Harvey Fierstein revised the book. The musical focuses on the second of Ms. Brice’s three marriages—to Nicky Arnstein, entrepreneur and gambler. The show requires the lead actress to have major vocal power, acting, and dancing ability. In 2022, the first and only Broadway revival starred Beanie Feldstein who was replaced by Lea Michele. There have only been three national tours in the past 60 years.
Katerina McCrimmon…is a dynamo on stage.…her energy is boundless, and she has an arresting stage presence and comedic timing that are captivating.
Jule Styne’s musicals are products of the “Golden Age” of American musical comedy—the period between 1940 and 1970. His two most successful musicals, “Funny Girl” and “Gypsy,” are both about the trials and tribulations of show business stars and their relationships. This first revival of “Funny Girl” has successfully maintained the feeling of the original but at the same time has added new emphasis to some of the characters. Two songs from the movie version, “You’re A Funny Girl” and “I’d Rather Be Blue Over You” are added to the original score. “Temporary Arrangement,” dropped from the first Broadway production, has been restored.
What a thrill it was to sit in front of a depiction of an old time, red velvet vaudeville act curtain and listen to the complete overture played by the orchestra under the direction of conductor Elaine Davidson. An equal pleasure occurred after intermission when the orchestra played the entr’acte music. This music is often not performed in touring musicals. Another tribute to the Golden Era was the choreography by Ellenore Scott and the tap dance choreography by Ayodele Casel. The ensemble tap numbers, the “Rat-Tat-Tat-Tat” men (Lamont Brown and Ryan Lambert) and especially the skilled and very impressive tap dancing of Izaiah Harris (playing Eddie Ryan) were breathtaking and drew cheers from the audience. Ms. Scott’s choreography of the ensemble dancing in “Henry Street,” “Sadie, Sadie,” and “His Love Makes Me Beautiful” was clever, interesting, and varied.
Katerina McCrimmon played Fanny Brice with humor, pathos, and gusto. She has a very strong, powerful voice, an expressive face, and is a dynamo on stage. She sings and dances in more than half the musical numbers, her energy is boundless, and she has an arresting stage presence and comedic timing that are captivating. Hers is an astounding performance. Fanny’s mother, played by understudy Eileen T’Kaye in place of Melissa Manchester (no explanation given), did a superb job in her many scenes with her poker-playing friends. She has a wry sense of humor, a strong, clear voice, and handles well the difficult task of playing a “stage mother” with tenderness and compassion who is concerned for her daughter’s welfare and happiness. Stephen Mark Lukas, playing the con man Nicky Arnstein, has such a nice tenor voice and is so appealing that it took me as long as it took Fanny to realize what a disreputable snake he was.
Scenic design by David Zinn was creative and evocative of the vaudeville era and life in the lower east side of New York In the early 20th century. The costumes, designed by Susan Hilferty, were spectacular, especially the Ziegfeld Follies chorines with butterfly wings in one number and huge hats representing different flowers in another. There were sparkling silver lame dresses, gray sequined tuxedos for the men, bagels on the belt for “Pvt. Schwartz from Rockaway,” and an unusual bridal gown.
Most impressive among the lighting designs of Kevin Adams was the use of the proscenium arch, surrounded by both traveling and solid bands of lights used in various scenes to enhance the songs and dances. Sound designers Brian Ronan and Cody Spencer had a tall stack of huge speakers on both sides of the stage, so not a note of song or word of speech was to be missed.
Harvey Fierstein’s reworking of the show’s book concentrates on Fanny Brice’s relationship with both her gambling-addicted husband and her mother. Both relationships affected her rise to stardom and personal happiness during the pre- and post-WWI era. In an interview for the Baltimore Jewish Times, Melissa Manchester believes the themes of “Funny Girl” are “humor in the face of catastrophe; strength in the face of bullying.” Ron Legler, president of the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center, which includes the Hippodrome Theater, stated that the show’s “themes of self-acceptance, fighting against stereotypes, and pursuing one’s dreams transcend times and can be realized by anyone in the audience regardless of age, sex or creed.” “Funny Girl” takes us back to a time when musical theater provided not only entertainment, but a brief escape from the troubles of the world and the problems of life.
Running Time: Two hours and 50 minutes with a 15-minute intermission.
“Funny Girl” runs through October 29, 2023, at the Hippodrome Theatre, 12 North Eutaw Street, Baltimore MD 21201. For more information and to purchase tickets, please visit online.