Funny Girl is based on the life of early 20th Century performer Fanny Brice, chronicling her rise from daughter of Jewish immigrants and Brooklyn saloon owners to famous star, as well as her tumultuous marriage to gambler Nicky Arnstein. From a young age our Fanny is told that she's not pretty, she's funny (as if you can't be both), and she uses that to launch her career. Despite his flaws (a tendency to lose money as quickly as he makes it, often illegally), she falls head over heels for Nicky, at one point quitting the Follies tour to follow him. But she returns to the career that she loves, even after having a baby, and becomes more successful than him. He reacts to that by getting into some shady deals, ending up in prison. Despite the updated book by Harvey Fierstein, the story is a bit dated in the way that Fanny is willing to give up her career for Nicky, and the idea that Nicky was forced to go further into a life of crime because he felt emasculated that his wife makes more money than him. But in the end, Fanny realizes that she is gorgeous and funny and a star, not because of what any man tells her, but because of who she is.
|Katerina McCrimmon as Fanny Brice
(photo by Matthew Murphy)
|Fanny (Katerina McCrimmon) and Nicky (Stephen Mark Lukas)
(photo by Matthew Murphy)
|photo by Matthew Murphy
the tapping and high kicking chorus line, to the wacky comedy bits. The set design refreshingly does not rely on projections but layer upon layer of scrims and backdrops. Much of the scenes are played against the brick walls of a theater, since much of the story takes place in a theater. There are painted backdrops of the Brooklyn street where Fanny's family's saloon is and her fancy Long Island mansion, and lush curtains for the Follies numbers. Speaking of, the Follies costumes are extravagant, including huge headdresses and silver metallic army uniforms, and the early 20th Century period clothing are more subdued but just as gorgeous. (Scenic design by David Zinn, costume design by Susan Hilferty, choreography by Ayodele Casel (tap) and Ellenore Scott.)
It's worth noting that Katerina McCrimmon is not Jewish, playing a Jewish icon. There may be an inherent lack of authenticity, especially because the show makes frequent reference to Fanny's Jewishness, sometimes in a joking manner. This isn't to take anything away from Katerina's performance, which is vocally and emotionally gorgeous, but it's something to think about if we're interested in authentically representing stories, people, and cultures on stage, and I hope we are. (You can read more commentary on this casting issue here, here, and here.)