BWW Interviews: Nicole Parker Talks About How It Feels to Play Fanny Brice in FUNNY GIRL
How does it feel playing the classic Fanny Brice, knowing full well that Streisand put her original stamp on it at the start?
Well, it's a legendary role because a legendary person made it legendary. There is no way around it! That will never change. So it's a tremendous honor to get to play this part, and I don't take it lightly. But then in order to actually play the part I have to forget all that because it doesn't help to remind yourself you're not Streisand. So I accept it, and never think about it again, honestly. The only thing I can control is how I tell the story. That's all that's left. So that's what I focus on. Bringing my own personality to the role in order to tell a story. If I think about all the other stuff I'll go crazy. CraziER.
You are brilliant with physical comedy. I think you added more of this than any other actress I have seen play Fanny, and I like that. Where did you learn your technique? Did it start before MADtv? Did that show help to hone it?
Thank you, that's so nice! MADtv certainly helped, I learned so much about comedy from that show. I learned about every aspect: timing, writing, character development, physical comedy, improv etc. But I would say my initial interest in physical comedy began with Fawlty Towers. It is a British sitcom that was super short-lived, with John Cleese. And it will teach you everything you want to know about comedy. And at the center is Cleese, that wonderful gigantic tall man and he does hilarious things with his body that are all character-driven. That's what I was drawn to. I wore out those videotapes when I was seven years old and honestly can trace so many choices back to those episodes! So go watch them, everybody! The other person I learned from firsthand was Martin Short. I did Fame Becomes Me on Broadway with him, and he is a brilliant physical comedian. But I'd never seen someone break down a bit of business quite like him. He'll spend an hour on one moment--working out the timing, the look, because he's so smart, and knows exactly how and when something needs to happen. And then of course on stage it looks effortless. That kind of education was invaluable! I knew I wanted to make my Fanny physical, because in watching the little footage that's publicly available of Fanny Brice, I noticed she made very funny, specific, physical choices. She has a number in a movie where she's dressed as a swan, ("It's Gorgeous To Be Graceful") and she does this crazy skip that I love. I try to do a bit of it in "Rat-Tat-Tat-Tat" as a tip of the hat to her. Also, adding physical comedy is just another way to pepper the scenes with moments that aren't on the page. I feel like a lot of this role is filling in the spaces with humor and personality.
You've played Elphaba in Wicked. That's another big, big role, which, like Fanny, requires a lot of stamina 8 times a week. How would you compare the challenges of playing both and the music? Is Jule Styne's score easier to perform than Stephen Schwartz's?
They are so, so different. Both are challenging I would say. Elphaba lives in a bit more of a pop world, where as the Funny Girl Score is rooted in the torch song era of Broadway, two completely wonderful styles of musical theater, but so very different to sing. Fanny just lives in a different place in my voice than Elphaba. I will say that Elphaba is wonderful training for a role like Fanny. The endurance you have to have for Wicked is pretty extensive, so I'm very glad I have experience knowing how to pace myself for three hours. And both scores require you to have power, and backup reserves of it! Funny Girl naturally sounds more old-fashioned, which it should--music from another time and place. It really transports you to hear it, so vocally it requires it's own technique to achieve that sound. It would be strange if I rocked the "Defying Gravity"-style "Ahh-ahh-ahh-ahh!" at the end of "Don't Rain on My Parade," although the cast has made it clear that they would really enjoy this one night : )