Review: FUNNY GIRL at Shea's Buffalo Theatre

McCRIMMON IS PERFECTION AS FANNY BRICE

By: Feb. 14, 2024
Review: FUNNY GIRL at Shea's Buffalo Theatre
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Funny. In 1964 a newcomer named Barbra Streisand was the third or fourth choice  to take on the role of Fanny Brice in the new Jule Styne musical FUNNY GIRL. The result catapulted a gawky Jewish girl from Brooklyn to superstar status. And the musical has never been

revived again on Broadway. No one dared to take  their stab at that iconic role. A 2022 revival emerged with an unorthodox choice, casting Beanie Feldstein as the funny Fanny. Poor reviews and drama backstage found Feldstein out and Lea Michele in. Audiences were enthralled.

Now who would lead the National tour? Well it seems like lightning strikes twice in the casting department, even if it took almost 60 years. Another relative newcomer named Katerina McCrimmon is a triple threat revelation as this century’s newest  funny girl. Equal parts  singer, actress and comedian, McCrimmon is the type of performer you will not soon forget, and for all the right reasons.

The meteoric rise of a goofy looking young Jewish girl named Fanny Brice in the early 1900’s provides great material for composer Styne and lyricist Bob Merrill to compose a vocal score that includes “People,” “The Music That Makes Me Dance,” and “I’m The Greatest Star.” A smattering of gag ridden production numbers from the Ziegfeld Follies allows Fanny to be a very pregnant, unglamorous bride or a bagel spinning Jewish soldier from Rockaway. Fanny’s real life unlikely romance to gambler Nick Arnstein allows us to see the serious side of a doomed marriage, in contrast to Brice’s outward clown personality.

McCrimmon’s voice is silky and yet brash, somehow like a mix of Streisand and Judy Garland. When she sings, you are sucked in my her intensity and vulnerability. There is never a hint of copying Streisand, but rather watching a driven woman attain her dreams, all with a nod of Jewish humor that grounds her portrayal .

Stephen Mark Lukas is Arnstein, fresh from  understudying the role on Broadway. Lukas is the suave tall, dark and handsome playboy with all the right moves. He sings was brash focus and matches McCrimmon’s voice beautifully in comic and dramatic duets. Their dinner meeting in a swanky restaurant with a bed found McCrimmon at her best comedic portrayal, as Lukas sings “You are Woman, I am Man.”

Melissa Manchester is on leave from the role of Fanny’s mother, Mrs. Brice, after an injury in November. But Buffalo is lucky to have seen Barbara Tirrell’s take as the loud, brusque mother. Tirrell is funny, witty and comforting in a part that brings some reality to Fanny’s starry existence. Tirrell has a great set of pipes, can shimmy with the best of them,  and perfectly embodied the supportive, and sometimes critical, Jewish mother.

Izaiah Montaque Harris is the dance teacher/choreographer Eddie Ryan. His tap dance special numbers showed some amazing tap skills that charmed the audience.

Director Michael Mayer guides the action with a light hand through a book that was written by Isobel Lennart, revised in this  version by Harvey Fierstein. The changes are unremarkable. There is an addition of a second act number for Arnstein that was originally cut during the 1964 out  of town tryouts because the actor wasn’t up to it’s challenges..”A Temporary Arrangement “ gives a little more depth  to Arnstein’s character, but the number still is not great.  A welcome addition includes the song “Funny Girl,” heard in the movie version.

The female ensemble gets to ham it up in the Ziegfeld production numbers, but the few number of men felt like a void at times, leaving the guys to work doubly hard to fill in the obvious gaps.

Costume Designer Susan Hilferty gets to shine in the gamut of period clothes, showgirl costumes, and dazzling ensembles for Fanny. The set design by David Zinn was often merely utilitarian, but had a few moments of sparkle when  needed.

The orchestra played Styne’s often brassy score robustly, under the baton of conductor Elaine Davidson.

While the overall production is satisfying, the performance of McCrimmon is so captivating that it would be crime not to witness the star turn she is giving on the Shea’s stage this week. The audience was  enthralled with her funny yet heartbreaking interpretation, all singing her praises as the new funny girl!

FUNNY GIRL plays at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre through February 18, 2023. Contact sheas.org for more information.

 


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