Review: FUNNY GIRL at Cleveland's Connor Palace

What did our critic think of FUNNY GIRL at Cleveland's Connor Palace?

By: Feb. 22, 2024
Review: FUNNY GIRL at Cleveland's Connor Palace
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Fania Borch was one of early 20th century vaudeville’s greatest stars.  Fania??  Oh, Fanny Brice, as she was known on the Ziegfeld Follies circuit, and is the nominal subject of FUNNY GIRL, now on stage at the Connor Palace as part of the Key Bank Broadway Series. 
 
Brice was born on the Lower East Side of New York in 1891. 
 
Her tale of stardom and a life of both fame and sorrow, started when, in 1908, she dropped out of school to work in a burlesque revue.  She made her mark by singing Irving Berlin’s “Sadie Salome, Go Home,” with a put-on Yiddish accent, (she didn’t speak Yiddish) while performing a parody of the veil dance from Richard Strauss’ opera SALOME.
 
Several years later, because of her comedic skills, and having “chutzpah” (Yiddish for audacity) to stand up to him, she was made a headliner-act by Flo Ziegfeld in his FOLLIES.
Brice is noted for her “goofy elasticity” and “spoofing the grand pretensions of the middle-class arts—ballet, the Barrymore acting style, ragtime and even herself.”
 
Brice, whose farce skills were the forerunner for the likes of Lucille Ball and Carol Burnett, was also noted for her emotional vocal delivery of her theme song, “My Man” and her delightful “Second Hand Rose” and “Sam, You Made the Pants Too Long.”  (None of these are in the score of FUNNY GIRL.) These songs, are also credited to Barbra Streisand, who played the role of Fanny in the original Broadway and then movie version or of the show.

FUNNY GIRL introduces not only Fanny’s rise to fame, but her love affair and later marriage and life with Nicky Arnstein, a ne’er do well gambler and con-man, who served time in both Sing Sing and Leavenworth jails. 

Don’t go to see the touring production expecting to see imitations of Streisand or Lea Michele (who starred in the 2022 revival of FUNNY GIRL).  Katherina McCrimmon who is portraying Fanny, has her own version of the role.  She acts, performs and sings the role with her own persona.  No heavy accent, no attempt at broad exaggerated farce, and no imitation of the Brice vocal sounds.   Maybe it’s McCrimmon’s non-New York background, but it is Brice, without Brice.

The interpretation makes for a serious feeling to the show.

Fanny’s mother and her card playing neighbors, are delightfully portrayed by Barbara Tirrell, Eileen T’Kaye and Cindy Change.  

Stephen Mark Lukas, who is matinee idol handsome, with a cut gym body that, when he appeared in an open bathrobe, got whistles and cat-calls, is properly conniving as Nick Arnstein. 

Izaiah Montaque Harris, he of talented tap-dancing feet, is compelling as Eddie Ryan, Fanny’s friend and neighbor.

The touring show has a small chorus which becomes obvious in the Follies scenes where few dancers portray being many.  

The sets are mainly drops.

The small orchestra often sounds electronic, but plays the music well.

The sound system is, as is often the case at the Connor Palace, adequate.  

The show is directed by Michael Mayer, with choreography by Ellenore Scott and tap choreography by Ayodele Casel.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT:  FUNNY GIRL is a throwback to the traditional musical.  From the sprightly overture, to the sequential story line, to an I want song (“Who are You Now!), that sets the show’s storyline in action, to the big score which is nicely woven into the storyline, to several hit songs (“People” and Don’t Rain on My Parade”), it is meant to entertain audiences and, in spite of what some will think is a misinterpretation of the role of Fanny, entertain it does.  

FUNNY GIRL, an offering of the Key Bank Broadway Series runs at the Connor Palace through March 10, 2024. For tickets call 216-241-6000 or go to www.playhousesquare.org

Next up:  Huntington Feature Performance of ANNIE, March 19-22, 2024.




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