Interview: Jenna Lea Rosen on Doing Justice to Fanny Brice's Legacy

A Conversation with the Star of MSMT's Upcoming Revival of FUNNY GIRL

By: Jun. 18, 2024
Interview: Jenna Lea Rosen on Doing Justice to Fanny Brice's Legacy
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“There was no one else like Fanny Brice!  Since I was a child, I have identified with her in so many ways,” enthuses Jenna Lea Rosen, who makes her MSMT debut and role debut this week in the first regional revival since the Broadway show’s recent closing.

“Fanny had always been told she was unconventionally beautiful; she had been raised in a show biz family - her mother Rose performed - and Fanny was on stage in vaudeville since she was a child; and she was a Jewish woman who learned to deflect prejudice with humor.  I am Jewish; I grew up in a show business family,. as well, and I have experienced some of the same prejudice she did.  But Fanny has that ‘show must go on’ mentality. She  isn’t going to let anything stand in her way.  Maybe I can learn from her.”

Rosen says that the role of Fanny Brice has always been on her bucket list, so that “when MSMT’s revival came onto my radar, I immediately reached out to my agents to see how we might make this happen. My agents were already on it, and it turns out that Curt [Dale Clark] I have a mutual friend, Scott Thompson, with whom I did MACK AND MABEL in L.A. They connected; I sent an audition tape and here we are!  The day I found out that I got the role, I cried right on the street in Washington Heights. Fanny Brice is my dream role, and I am so excited to get this opportunity.”

Jenna Lea Rosen may be new to Maine audiences, but she has been performing from an early age and amassed a considerable list of credits on the West Coast and in New York.  Rosen grew up in Seal Beach, CA. “I come from a performing arts family. I was a tour baby. My parents were on the first national tour of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST when my mom was pregnant with me.  I spent the first three or four years of my life on the road with them. My grandma has owned Orange City Song and Dance Studio in Huntington Beach for forty years.  That’s where I got my training, taking acting, singing, and dance classes. At my fifth birthday party, I performed a one-woman version of  WICKED. I was fortunate to have my mother’s friends as teachers and mentors, too. My two godmoms were Broadway Belles in BEAUTY AND THE BEAST.  So I was brought up with musical theatre, and when my parents figured out that I could sing, everything else seemed to fall into place.  It was all very natural – not at all forced.”

Interview: Jenna Lea Rosen on Doing Justice to Fanny Brice's Legacy Rosen’s career has seemed to blossom organically. “I started working regionally when I was very young.  I did all those Annies and Sound of Musics. I was lucky to have some of the best training from professionals at an early age. I kind of ‘marinated’ in that environment, so that when it came time to go to college, I decided against a BFA program.  I took some classes at Cal State Long Beach and began to work regionally and do lots of voice overs for Disney.”

Rosen planned to move to New York in 2020, but the pandemic derailed those plans. “To keep my skills sharp, my lifeline was to perform on my porch every Saturday for a community audience, and I also built a voice booth in my house to continue the voice over work.”  After the pandemic, Rosen did move to New York City and has worked on regional theatres on both the East and West Coasts. Among her favorite recent credits have been Wednesday in THE ADDAMS FAMILY at Sacramento Music Circus, Prissy in a new musical, ANNE OF GREEN GABLES, at the Goodspeed Opera House, and a concert production of Mabel in MACK AND MABEL at the All Roads Theatre Company, together with Dermot Mulroney and Caroline O’Connor.

“Mabel is another tour de force role,” observes Rosen, comparing the vocal demands to those in FUNNY GIRL. Asked about what vocal skills she has brought to bear for Fanny Brice, Rosen replies, “You can’t talk about Fanny Brice without talking about Barbra Streisand.  My version is very different from Barbra’s, as is anyone’s who plays Fanny.  My own interpretation is very personal. Vocally, it is one of the most robust musical challenges in all of musical theatre. I try to think of another comparable role – maybe Eva Peron, but she doesn’t have to talk – just sing. Fanny, God love her, does not stop talking! Or singing!!  She has fifteen solos; they just keep coming!”

Rosen says she did read some biographies and dip into some documentaries about Fanny Brice as well as watching online clips of Streisand in the role, but “not too much because I want to find it myself.”  For Rosen, FUNNY GIRL is primarily “a love story. “Love for Nick Arnstein, but also love for the theatre. She knows what she is meant to do; she knows she is talented and tenacious, but the only thing lacking in her life is  romantic love – someone to validate her, tell her she is beautiful. When Nick shows up, her whole life is turned upside down. Both are flawed people, and they make mistakes, but they do genuinely love each other. Their romance is fast, furious, and intense. It is a very human story.”

Though rehearsals have just started, Rosen is thrilled to be working with the MSMT  creative team. Music Director, Jason Wetzel, has  helped her “to find  roadmap of pacing” for the role and discover some moments to breathe.” Director/choreographer Kenny Ingram is “totally collaborative and a joy personified.” She is enjoying finding the chemistry with her co-star, Douglas Williams who is the quintessential Nick Arnstein” and she finds veteran performers in the cast like Susan Cella (Mrs. Brice), Charis Leos (Mrs. Strakash), and David Girolmo (Florenz Ziegfeld) “amazing colleagues and great resources.”

Of the physical production, she says she is excited to work with the new video wall technology –“I’ve never done a show with this before; it’s unique!” – and get to wear the new costumes being built for the production.

Rosen’s energy and enthusiasm for this project are abundantly apparent. “For me, this is a big checkoff in my life.  I hope this won’t be the only time [I get to play Fanny]. My hopes and sights have always been set on Broadway, and I feel I am getting closer each day.”

But for the next few weeks, Jenna Lea Rosen will get to inhabit the world of Fanny Brice and share her love of the role with the MSMT audience.  Asked what she hopes that audience takes away from her performance and the production, she replies: “So many things. I hope they enjoy those iconic songs; that they become completely immersed in the ride and feel as if they are on Henry Street, or at Keeney’s, or watching the Follies. I hope they have fun – it is called FUNNY GIRL, after all – and laugh and cry and clap. I want them to take away the heart of the story and get to know a little bit of me through this amazing character.  Most of all, I hope I can do justice to Fanny Brice’s legacy.”


Photos courtesy of MSMT, Jared Morneau, production photo

FYNNUY GIRL runs from June 26-July 13, 2024 at MSMT’s Pickard Theater on the Bowdoin College campus, 1 Bath Rd., Brunswick, ME   207-725-8769


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