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A CurtainUp Berkshire Review
Funny Girl by Elyse Sommer
Though chockfull of memorable songs like "People" and "Don't Rain On My Parade" and delightful dance numbers such as "Sadie, Sadie" and "Rat-tat-tat-tat" Funny Girl revivals are few and far between. For one thing the production numbers of Brice's heyday as the star comedienne of the Ziegfeld Follies' call for elaborate staging and costumes. Even more to the point, Streisand had the looks and vocal power that fit the role so perfectly that the ghost of Streisand's Fanny became an off-putting challenge, especially so after the film which was also a hit. To sidestep the ghost-of-Barbra syndrome, Seth Rudetsky's Actors' Fund of America Benefit concert of the show a few seasons back gave a scene and musical moment to sixteen different Broadway stars. But no Barbra ghost busting subterfuges for Ms. Boyd. Instead she's found a gutsy young unknown named Jeanne Goodman to star in her production. Goodman justifies Ms. Boyd's faith. Without trying to wrestle Barbra's ghost into oblivion, she has created a memorable Fanny -- full of chutzpah and charm, funny yet touchingly vulnerable, agile and with a big belting voice.
The sixteen other cast members are also top drawer. Chris Yates who played Cliff Bradshaw in Boyd's Cabaret (review) is deliciously debonair as the leading man, Nicky Arnstein (played by Sydney Chaplin on Broadway and Omar Sharif in the film). Happily he not only looks great in the ruffled shirt that first captivates Fanny but has a strong presence and fine singing voice. In the interest of romance, Arnstein, the love of Fanny's life whose troubles with the law finally ended their marriage, is understandably whitewashed in the play -- a high flying gambler instead of the gangster he was and too proud to live off her earnings, as the real Arnstein was not.
Laura Kenyon acquits herself better than well as Fanny's mother, as does Bertilla Baker as her nudg-y friend Mrs. Strakosh. Craig Waletsko is another standout as Eddie Ryan, Fanny's best pal, dance teacher and manager. His peppy "Rat-tat-tat-tat " is just one showcase for him, the versatile multi-tasking ensemble and Tony Parise's choreography. Flo Ziegfeld who first appears as a distant and forbidding Wizard of Oz style voiceover , ends up in the form of the gentlemanly, likeable stage presence of James Van Treuren. In fact, he becomes putty in Fanny's hands after he insists that she ends a bridal scene singinging "I Am Beautiful" and she obeys, but with her own comic and crowd pleasing twist.
Aided by Michael Anania's sets, Katherine Noland's snazzy costumes and F. Mitchell Dana's effective lighting, this is one of Ms. Boyd's most lavish and inventively staged productions. It makes you completely forget that this venue is a high school auditorium transformed into a summer theater. This sense of Broadway in the Berkshires is reinforced by the pit cleverly carved right into the front of the stage to accommodate Jono Mainelli's 6-piece band.
For those who want to know more about the real Fanny Brice, the BSC program has provided a helpful, photo illustrated two-page backgrounder. The Summer 2003 BSC newsletter also provides some fascinating background on the musical's tumultuous ride to its triumphant Winter Garden run -- the failed attempt to make it into a movie by Brice's son-in-law. . .the casting of Streisand only after Mary Martin, Anne Bancroft and Carol Burnett turned down the part. . .the disastrous Boston tryout which seeded more than 42 scene rewrites, the hiring and firing of four directors and four title changes. Like Fanny Brice, the show made it against all odds. Unlike all that reworking between Boston and Broadway, I wouldn't change a thing about BSC's Funny Girl!
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