Thursday, January 18, 2024

"Funny Girl" Broadway Tour at the Orpheum Theatre

The long overdue first Broadway revival of Funny Girl (which made Barbra Streisand a star in the '60s) has finally arrived in Minneapolis - for one short week only! I'd never seen it on stage before (I don't recall a #TCTheater production in my blog-memory), and while I have seen the movie, I'm not that familiar with it, or the music. I was blown away by the score, the dancing (setting a story in the Follies allows for some great dance numbers apropos of nothing), and the positively radiant performance of Katerina McCrimmon as Fanny Brice. Head to downtown Minneapolis to see this fabulous new production of a little done classic while you can! (Click here for the official ticket purchasing site, which also include info about the student/educator rush tickets.)

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)
As Fanny Brice, Katerina McCrimmon is every bit "the greatest star." She can be both funny and heart-breaking, and has a phenomenal voice, with incredible vocal control as she effortlessly varies range, volume, and emotionality. I heard someone behind me refer to her as "if Judy and Barbra had a baby," and she definitely has vocal stylings of both, but in a way that's all her own. Every song she sings is better than the last. Highlights in the supporting cast include Izaiah Montaque Harris - with some fabulous tap numbers as the hoofer Eddie, Fanny's good friend and constant supporter; Barbara Tirrell as Fanny's tough-love mother; and Stephen Mark Lukas as the charming Nicky, making it easy to see why Fanny falls for him. The two sing beautifully together.

Fanny (Katerina McCrimmon) and Nicky (Stephen Mark Lukas)
(photo by Matthew Murphy)
The score was composed by Julie Styne, who also composed the music for Gypsy, and I can hear the similarities. Fanny is not unlike Mama Rose, and "Don't Rain on My Parade" is her "Everything's Coming Up Roses." It's the most well-known song from the show (well, almost) and a showstopper, but there are other great songs I was less familiar with - the rousing "I'm the Greatest Star," the lovely (and unfortunately titled) "His Love Makes Me Beautiful," and the stunning duet "Who Are You Now?" The other famous song from the show that I almost forgot was from this show is "People (Who Need People)," which is a gorgeous song gorgeously sung, but it almost took me out of the story because it's such a well-known often parodied song. But it's a great score, and the 12-person pit orchestra (most of them local instrumentalists) provides a glorious sound.

photo by Matthew Murphy
The Follies show-within-a-show dance numbers are truly eye-popping, from shiny sparkly costumes, to
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.)