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A CurtainUp Review
One Night With Fanny Brice
Fanny Brice, born Fania Borach, was a determined, talented ham who became the first immensely successful crossover performer of the 20th century. With her trademark Yiddish accent, Brice became a well-loved singer, physical comic, and impersonator. Defaa presents his well-researched biomusical through Fanny Brice's memories.
Fanny (Kimberly Faye Greenberg) comes on stage as her own ghost to the tune "That Mysterious Rag" which she repeats throughout the play. Her strong-willed mother Rose, believed in mystery and convinced Fanny that she had a gift, "A little psychic something." Fanny herself claimed she saw ghosts. She was also influenced by her father whom she adored, "Pinochle Charlie," was a handsome, well-groomed dreamer who epitomized the plaintive song, "I'm Always Chasing Rainbows." He encouraged Fanny's singing but he frustrated the hard-working, independent Rose, leading her to finally pack up the children and move from Newark, N.J. to Brooklyn.
Fannie continued to idolize Charlie, even after falling in love with Nicky Arnstein, another charming gambler and swindler. What she went through with that guy! She had two other husbands and three divorces, but Nicky was the one she adored despite his abuse of her generosity.
The show follows Fanny into show business, beginning with her first amateur contest with brother Lew. After having coins thrown at her feet for singing, she quit school to work in stock companies, burlesque, the Ziegfeld Follies, theater, films, and radio, delivering pop songs, dancing and comedy. Becoming the highest-paid American singing comedienne of her day, she was in the middle of her popular radio show about the wisecracking kid, "Baby Snooks" when she suffered a massive stroke and died at age 59.
Kimberly Faye Greenberg unveils the vulnerability often hidden beneath the funny girl façade. You may want to shake her for falling once again for Nicky's line, you have to admit the lady was loyal. Greenberg doesn't look anything like Brice but she delivers her songs in a similar wide vibrato and a lusty belt, has a tenacious tap dance technique, and tosses out quips with offhand charm.
Defaa has deftly set up the scenes to lead into just the right song. There are , over 20 of them including "I'm an Indian," to displayBrice's wacky physicality, "Rose of Washington Square," a gutsy tune about a singer's struggles, and the popular, "Second Hand Rose." The most poignant renditions are those associated with Arnstein — "You Made Me Love You." and the masochistic weeper "My Man."
Fanny Brice embraced the vitality of the early American stage but with a production this spare, the narrative sometimes falls into a mechanical rhythm enlivened only by the songs and dances. Josh Iacovelli has designed a functional set that displays show biz intent with two poster panels of Fanny Brice, a piano, and a ghost light. Video projections of events and legendary characters living between the two World Wars. would have been helpful. Renee Purdy has dressed Greenberg like an early flapper in Act I and a plain black dress that was too short and contemporary for the 1930's and '40's in the second act. . Musical director Richard Danley on piano and violinist Jonathan Russell deliver the tinny accompaniment that fit Brice's early career, although it sounded a bit skimpy for her Ziegfeld Follies days.
An ASCAP Award-winning writer/director, Chip Deffaa continues to keep alive the excitement and drama of the years when popular entertainment was taking its baby steps. One Night With Fanny Brice, celebrates the essence and gusto of one talented American entertainer. She was pals with everyone —, Jolson, Ziegfeld, and Gypsy Rose Lee —, but her own roots remained grounded with "Pinochle Charlie" and her mama, Rose.