Interview: FUNNY GIRL's Stephen Mark Lukas's the Go-To Nick Arnstein for Six Fanny Brices

The North American tour of Funny Girl lands in Los Angeles at the Ahmanson April 2nd, & later at Segerstrom May 28th

By: Mar. 26, 2024
Interview: FUNNY GIRL's Stephen Mark Lukas's the Go-To Nick Arnstein for Six Fanny Brices
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Interview: FUNNY GIRL's Stephen Mark Lukas's the Go-To Nick Arnstein for Six Fanny Brices

The North American tour of Funny Girl lands in Los Angeles at the Ahmanson April 2, 2024, and later at Segerstrom May 28. 2024. Tony Award winner Michael Mayer directs the cast of Melissa Manchester, Katerina McCrimmon, Stephen Mark Lukas, Izaiah Montaque Harris, Walter Coppage. Leah Platt, Cindy Chang, Eileen T’Kaye, David Foley Jr., Vinny Andaloro, Lamont Brown, Kate E. Cook, Julia Grondin, Jackson Grove, Alex Hartman, Dot Kelly, Ryan Lambert, Kathy Liu, Meghan Manning, Bryan Charles Moore, Sami Murphy, Emily Anne Nester, Hannah Shankman, Jordon Taylor, Rodney Thompson, Sean Thompson and Annaliese Wilbur. I had the chance to chat with Stephen (Nick Arnstein to Katerina’s Fanny Brice) over the phone during his stint at the Connor Palace Playhouse Square in Cleveland.

Thank you for taking the time for this interview, Stephen!

How’s it going there in Cleveland, Ohio?

It's good. It's good. We're having a great time here. I actually was here for a week and then I went on vacation for a week and then I came back. Now the weather is nice and warm and sunny. Audiences here have been fantastic. We've had a really warm reception to the show. It's been a lovely time. They have an enormous theater district with seven beautiful theaters.

Any Connor Palace Playhouse Square audience reactions take you by surprise?

There's a joke about Cleveland in the show; a few jokes in the train station scene. In the set, the sign says Cleveland Union Depot. It wasn't really possible to change it and there's some disparaging jokes about Cleveland. It's funny because the audience reaction ranges from outright boos, to really being tickled and being good sports about it. So, it's funny. There's a joke about Baltimore, in the script too. Baltimore, that got a great reaction. It's really fun to just see how different audiences respond to the different parts of the country.

You understudied Nick Arnstein in the Broadway revival. How many times did you get to go on?

Interview: FUNNY GIRL's Stephen Mark Lukas's the Go-To Nick Arnstein for Six Fanny Brices I actually got to go on quite a bit. I went on about five or six times. Then Ramin, who's playing the role actually left for about a month to go do the Phantom of the Opera in Italy. So, I got to take over the role for about three weeks during that time. That was a really good, exciting experience. I got to do it opposite Lea Michelle for about three weeks and really just sink my teeth into it. The experience of doing it every night was really amazing.

How many different Fanny Brices did you work with?

Oh gosh, let's see. I think now I'm up to… I had three in this production with all the covers, and worked with three in the previous production; so I guess six total. Wow! Including rehearsals and everything. Yeah, it definitely keeps me on my toes.

What were you doing when you found out you were booked for the North American tour of Funny Girl?’

Let's see. I actually had another job lined up. This came my way through a confluence of circumstances. It was really an example of just being in the right place at the right time. I had just started performing the role on Broadway and it was just one of those serendipitous things that happened to this business. Just a number of factors lining up. I think it was last spring at some point. It was a little maybe a little less or a little over a year. ago when I got the call. I was really excited again, I had done it on Broadway a little bit. Doing it as an understudy is a little bit of a different experience because you're always up against the clock in terms of preparation and in terms of you may not have a lot of notice that you're going on. You always feel shot out of a cannon. I was really excited to get the chance to really build it from scratch with a new company. It has been very, very rewarding.

For the very few unfamiliar with Funny Girl, what would your three-line pitch of it be?

It's the story of Fanny Brice. People may know Fanny or they may not know that it is based on a biography of a real person. She was an enormous star in vaudeville, the Ziegfeld Follies on Broadway and radio. She made a few films, but because she was a star in the early 20th century, a lot of her work has been lost to time because she was before the advent of TV and film. Interview: FUNNY GIRL's Stephen Mark Lukas's the Go-To Nick Arnstein for Six Fanny Brices It's a story of Fanny Brice and her rise to fame and being told from a young age that she is not going to succeed, and that she shouldn't be a performer because she doesn't look the way that the other girls in the Ziegfield Follies at that time looked. It's one woman’s winning path to success despite those obstacles, and it's a very inspiring story. It is a love story as well. Her marriage to Nick Arnstein. A very charming gambler, if I may say so. And it's their story. The first act really deals with her rise to fame and the second act is really about her marriage to Nick and their trials and tribulations that they face.

If you were to submit Nick Arnstein for a dating site, aside from his charm, what qualities of his would you list?

He is definitely a romantic. Definitely. I'd say that he's very ambitious. He really wants to climb the ladder of success at any cost for good or ill. I'd say that he has a great sense of humor. He really has a dry wit in the script that I think is really fun to play. Nick’s able to laugh at himself. He's very entertained by Fanny’s humor in this show. He’s really a charming character. People have different reactions to him because of what happens in the story, which I won't get away. But I've really grown to have a soft spot for him. He has an enormous heart.

What character flaws would you definitely omit?

I think that again, his ambition gets the better of him. He reaches a point in the story of desperation in his relationship with Fanny that does not serve them well. But I do not think that he's a bad guy. People are used to seeing musicals where the love story is very straightforward. And it is a progression of getting to know each other, then falling in love and getting married and happily ever after. This is not that. This shows a story of a marriage that has really happened. It parallels a lot of relationships where it's not necessarily the happy ending in the fairy tale sense. People see that and they think that he's in the wrong somehow. I would just counter by saying, ‘It's a story of a real relationship and all of the good and all of the sorrow that that entails.’

Interview: FUNNY GIRL's Stephen Mark Lukas's the Go-To Nick Arnstein for Six Fanny Brices Anyone you’ve worked with before in this touring cast?

Let's see. No. But Hannah Shankman, who is Fanny’s standby, does it every Thursday; she was my downstairs neighbor when we lived in New York. We didn't know each other very well at all, but we got to know each other very well on tour. It was just one of those funny showbiz things where I knew she was there, and I knew she was my neighbor and then all of a sudden, we're playing opposite each other. So that's really funny. And then Barbara Terrell, who played the role of Mrs. Brice for the last few months while Melissa Manchester was on leave. She and I had been a production of Oklahoma together about six or seven years ago and we just adored working together.

Is there a number you’re not in that you make a point to watch from the wings?

Yes. I always watch The Music That Makes Me Dance, which is the big 11 o’clock number; Fanny's number after she finds out that Nick has is actually going to jail and they're going to be separated. It’s a torch song. I think it's one of the most beautiful love songs ever written for any theater. It's just a beautiful. Katerina McCrimmon just sings it unlike anyone I have ever heard. It is really an amazing moment in the show. I have an emotional scene with her right after that. I find watching her do that every night really just puts me in the right emotional space for the end of the show.

I’m thinking of the incredible end of the film with My Man. It’s amazing they didn't put that song in.

Some people say they miss it from this production. That was a song that Fanny Brice really sang but I think The Music That Makes Me Dance serves the scoring of the musical much better.

Interview: FUNNY GIRL's Stephen Mark Lukas's the Go-To Nick Arnstein for Six Fanny Brices So, do not expect to hear My Man in the show.

I guarantee you that Katerina’s performance will more than make up for that omitted song. It was never in the show. We're doing this as it was written by Jule Styne.

Do you have a favorite Melissa Manchester song?

Oh, gosh! She is hysterical. She really does a wonderful job. I love watching her Who Taught Her Everything She Knows?, a great number she and Izaiah Harris  do, a little vaudeville duo for us in the beginning of the second act.

What about Melissa’s own songs?

Her own songs? I mean, I would be lying if I said I didn't blast Don’t Cry Aloud at various points.

In an alternate universe, in what circumstances and in what venue would some of the characters you’ve portrayed (Nick Arnstein, Paper Mill’s Beauty & The Beast’s Gaston, Spike in the John W. Engeman Theater’s Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, Lieutenant Caebe in Maltz Jupiter’s South Pacific, The Book of Mormons’ Elder Price) interact?

Oh, gosh!  I don't know! Maybe a support group for men who have been rejected by their wives. I thinking of Gaston and Nick, flip sides of the same coin in that there's definitely ego there. There's definitely a conceit to them. But I think they're extremes and Nick is definitely more of a real human being and as much more sympathetic as a character. Elder Price too is one of those characters that starts out this common thread. Most of the characters I play, they may start off in a place where they have everything and they're very confident with themselves - maybe a little too confident. Then as the show progresses, they are required to grapple with their humility. And I've always found that interesting about the characters that I play. Whereas a character like Fanny and a lot of lead roles where you start in a place where you're a little bit unsure of yourself, and then your competence builds as the story progresses. And I find that most of the characters I play are sort of the inverse of that.

What is your daily physical regime?

Interview: FUNNY GIRL's Stephen Mark Lukas's the Go-To Nick Arnstein for Six Fanny Brices I know I have had to really adopt a pretty strict schedule with this role. Doing eight shows a week if anything is really difficult and requires you to be very disciplined in what we do, at least it’s been my experience with it. I have a workout program that I do five days a week. I try to do some cardio as well. I try to swim or do running classes to keep my heart rate. I find that that helps my voice, helps my singing. I do a vocal warm-up every day. Try to do a little bit of a sensible warm-up before the show. I try to keep a good bedtime, try to get plenty of sleep. You fall into a rhythm with these things. It's always a little bit different depending on the role. But I found that it's helped me to stay true to that.

Do you find you work out more for shirtless scenes? Or do you just routinely maintain your fit physique?

It's definitely something in the back of your mind. Thankfully, I've done shows where I was very scantily clad, and this was not one of those. There's a little moment that happens on top of the second act, but other than that, I am in a tailcoat and a tux and beautiful costumes by Susan Hilferty for the rest of the show. So that's been great.

Funny Girl is touring over thirty cities. Any city you’re most excited to play?

I'm very excited for L.A. I've never played the Ahmanson. I'm very excited to be there to get some sunny weather hopefully. The whole cast is very excited for that. And I am excited for Washington, DC as well. We're going to play Kennedy Center for three weeks. I'd say those are the important stops that I'm really looking forward to.

Interview: FUNNY GIRL's Stephen Mark Lukas's the Go-To Nick Arnstein for Six Fanny Brices What do you always keep on your dressing room table?

Oh, that's a great question! I have two things that I carry to every city with me. One is blue marble egg, which is a little Easter egg from the story. You'll understand when you see it. A blue marble egg that Julie Benko gave me one of my first times going on for Nick. Of course, she was the standby in the Broadway production and to the world for a while she was incredible as Fanny Bryce. She would give everyone if they were an understudy, when they went on for the first time in their understudy role; she would give them a blue marble egg. I have that on my dressing table, and I had a lovely little piece of crystal that Melissa Manchester gave me opening tonight as well. I have those on my dressing table and a lot of snacks too. I start to get hungry halfway through the show and I need granola bars and so my station usually has snacks and those little mementos.

The tour is booked through April 2025. What do you see for Stephen Mark Lukas after this? Another touring gig? Back on Broadway? A vacation?

I don't know. I think it depends on the role. It depends on the show. Of course, Broadway's is always wonderful. Touring has been exciting, to see different parts of the country and to get a feel for the audiences and see cities that honestly I probably wouldn't get to see otherwise. As you know, we're in Cleveland right now, which is a lovely town. It's been great to explore it and see the sights and get to know the local places to eat. But I think it's always a matter of the material for me. The role and trying to find things that are interesting. Maybe at some point, I'll play a character that's a little more humble than the ones that I'm playing.

Is there is there a role that you would love to sink your acting chops in?

Yeah! I've done a lot of Rogers & Hammerstein. I've done a lot of these classic leading men roles. I would love to do Billy Bigelow in Carousel - that's one I've never gotten to do. And that is definitely one on my list.

Billy Bigelow, that's a good choice. Thank you for taking the time to do this, Stephen!

Oh, you're so welcome. My pleasure. Thanks so much, Gil.

For tickets to the live performance of Funny Girl at the Ahmanson through April 28, 2024; click on the button below: 

If you don’t get a chance to see Funny Girl at the Ahmanson, you can get tickets for its Segerstrom’s run May 28th through June 9th at this link.