Grandly directed by Mayer, this tinkering of a classic works well on David Zinn's elegant mirrored scenic design, especially when paired with Kevin Adams' lighting and Susan Hilferty's exquisite costume work. Funny Girl is a brilliant work, and with Feldstein, radiates pure theatrical joy. It's a revelation for the stage that is certainly not to be missed. Dare I say one of the most enjoyable revivals of the last decade? Go see what all the People are raving about for yourself.
FUNNY GIRL Broadway Reviews
I was obviously not around to bear witness to the esteemed greatness of the Original Broadway cast of Funny Girl, but I did grow up loving the movie adaptation that starred Streisand and Omar Sharif and that, in my opinion, is a tough act to follow. But, for the past ten years I had been hoping that the eventual and inevitable Funny Girl revival would cast one man, and one man only, in the role. And they did. Ramin Karimloo is effortless in doling out the charm and allure that draws Fanny Brice in and makes her willing to even consider giving up her career... Funny Girl is the exact musical that we need right now. One that embraces the joys and pains of growing up and growing apart, while embracing the beauty that comes from being a funny girl like Fanny Brice.
The production recreates the heart and humor of the Ziegfeld Follies and the razzle-dazzle of Broadway in the 1920s in all of its rude comedy and gaudy glory. Mr. Fierstein adds an edge to the story without diminishing any of its values. New songs have been borrowed from the movie version and other sources, moved around in different acts and inserted for emphasis, and sometimes the whole thing moves too fast to digest. One minute Fanny is the awkward girl from Henry Street in Brooklyn, the next minute she's auditioning for Ziegfeld, and before the applause wears down, she's doing the pregnant bride bit that catapulted her to super-stardom, startling her mother (a sour Jane Lynch) and her poker-playing friends. On the rare occasion when the pace slows, there are luscious, leggy show girls to keep you enthralled, a swirl of spectacular tap dancers led by Jared Grimes to keep your pulse racing, and barrels of confetti that fall on your head like Technicolor rain. The show is three hours long, but Ms. Feldstein makes the minutes fly by with such pleasure that you wish it would never end. And she is bolstered every step of the way by the first completely drop-dead lover-husband version of gambler-racketeer Nick Arnstein in the history of Funny Girl. The dashing, glamorous Ramin Karimloo, so wonderful in Anastasia, is also the first Nick who can sing, dance and render an audience stricken with such awe that new numbers had to be added to enhance his role and showcase his varied talents appropriately. He makes Fanny's fairy tale romanticism breathe with the realism that all things are possible. If this isn't a star in the making, then justice no longer exists in the American theater.
"Funny Girl" is still more of a star vehicle than it is timeless or transporting. Its notions about women and men betray the rust of half a century, particularly its premise (she's funny, but couldn't possibly be pretty without fitting in). There are constraints to any material so snugly tied to gendered conventions, and their narrow conceit of how happily ever after is supposed to look. But with Feldstein firmly steering the ship, "Funny Girl" is a breezy and joyful ride.
The show rests and falls on Feldstein, who must posses as Brice both a grand confidence - "I'm the greatest star" - and an insecurity ("You mean it?"). Brice is a beacon for all the misfits, a stand-in for the unconventional - "a bagel on a plate full of onion rolls" - and Feldstein nails it. Plus, she can deliver a "fakachta" with authenticity. Highlights include a hysterically seductive and hungry "You Are Woman, I Am Man;" a crowded celebration of married life in "Sadie, Sadie;" the touching duet "Who Taught Her Everything She Knows"; and the showstopper-in-the-show "Rat-Tat-Tat-Tat" with 12 dancers mimicking soldiers. Look for a moment when Karimloo shuffles playing cards theatrically and Lynch does the same not long after.
For the length of this review, I'm plunking down in Feldstein's corner. She strides on stage with full confidence to sit at a dressing table where Brice is about to reflect on her life. In no time flat, she's back in Brooklyn as the young Great White Way wannabe. She's already convinced her name should be in lights, and in a tearing hurry it is-in the Ziegfeld Follies, no less. Feldstein remains in tight control-director Michael Mayer certainly helps greatly-as Brice is romanced by Nick Arnstein (Ramin Karimloo) and spends the rest of the several years this tuner covers (approximately 1910-1921) raising daughter Francis Arnstein and dealing with the on-again-mostly-off-again luck her businessman-gambler hubby faces.
People who go in with strict, preconceived notions of what Funny Girl or who Fanny should be will probably be disappointed. They usually are. But as someone wiser than me once said, "You curate the experience you want." Certainly the now-familiar songs by Bob Merrill and Jule Styne are there, topped by two certified hits: "People" and "Don't Rain on My Parade," but this is no carbon copy of the original. This is a funny Funny Girl, and Beanie Feldstein is a truly funny, funny girl.
This "Funny Girl" has much else to recommend it, from a piquant but faithful revised book by Harvey Fierstein to the performances of Ms. Feldstein's co-stars, directed with great warmth and wit by Michael Mayer. The handsome bari-tenor Ramin Karimloo, after suffering through stiff, joyless roles in "Anastasia" and "Les Misérables," finally gets a Broadway showcase for his comedic and dramatic prowess as Nicky Arnstein, the inveterate gambler who captures Fanny's heart.
Watching the performance of this 28-year-old actress actually feels like a living referendum on what now makes a great lead performance in a classic musical comedy. Feldstein struggles mightily with the internal vocal demands of numbers like "Don't Rain on My Parade" and "People," her voice coming and going. She has, though, figured out how to sustain the crucial final note, which is, for some, what matters most. She throws back her head, summons up every inch of her heart and soul and lets fly on, like, "pa-RAAADE." Boom. Its amalgam of theatricality and raw determination inspires forgiveness. All of Feldstein's chips are in the middle of the table at every moment and who does not enjoy seeing that in a Broadway theater on a Saturday night, surrounded by people who need people?
Feldstein has a mobile face and a knack for pratfalls, but she's not yet a master clown. And her singing is a mixed blessing. She can belt "Don't Rain on My Parade" with enough power to bring the audience ecstatically to its feet at the end of the first act, but her nonbelting voice rarely gains traction.
Feldstein doesn't possess Streisand's voice, but what she does offer is a sweet, piping sound that encompasses the score's range from E below middle C to a high F. Equally important, she respects that 1964 score and doesn't modernize it with a lot of melismatic distortions. After her enchanting Broadway debut playing Minnie Fay in the Bette Midler "Hello, Dolly!," Feldstein is a quirky, offbeat choice to play Fanny Brice. But then, Streisand was also a quirky, offbeat choice back in 1964. Carol Burnett and Anne Bancroft were the more conventional choices back then, and Brice's daughter, Fran Arnstein Stark, wanted to see Mary Martin cast in the title role.
Feldstein is at her best (even when the show occasionally lets her down). While she doesn't have the vocal gifts that Streisand could employ to stake a claim on show-within-a-show stardom, Feldstein is no less convincing in her Fanny's self-belief and determination. No one would dare rain on her parade.Well, maybe a drizzle or two. Was it necessary to have Feldstein fall to the ground and roll downstage for the cheapest laugh in a show that has its share? Not even the possible period-correctness of a Ziegfeld comedy bit in which Fanny plays a Jewish WWI doughboy with bagels hanging from his belt could justify that groaner (and Feldstein's exaggerated, desperate mugging doesn't help). The kettledrum sound when a wedding-dressed Fanny, sporting a comic pregnancy pillow, bumps into her fellow dancers seems more like a bad 1970s Sonny and Cher Show sketch than anything worthy of today's Broadway stage.
It's such a bonanza of great tunes and comic bits, what Broadway dreamer could resist? I wish the gamble had paid off. Feldstein comes across as too sensible, too sane, too body positive to incarnate the cauldron of self-mocking, self-aggrandizing, and self-doubt that drives Fanny to success in the Ziegfeld Follies and then into the arms of handsome Nicky Arnstein (Ramin Karimloo, suavely solid). The latter, a debonair professional gambler, was supposed to be the love of her life, but he becomes an emotional and financial weight around her neck. In the end, Fanny has but one paramour: the spotlight.
Feldstein, whose only previous Broadway credit was in the 2017 revival of "Hello, Dolly" as a minor lead, nails three musical numbers in "Funny Girl" - "Don't Rain on My Parade," "Rat-Tat-Tat-Tat" and the finale - that allow us to glimpse the star quality that the production must have been banking on. The three other leads who are listed above the title hold their own: Both Jane Lynch as Fanny's mother and Ramin Karimloo as Fanny's dashing but disreputable husband give their usual stellar performances, and Jared Grimes, as Fanny's friend and advocate Eddie Ryan, is so good, especially in several thrilling tap-dance numbers, that he may be the one cast member who emerges from this production a star. Under the direction of Michael Mayer, with choreography by Ellenore Scott that tries to recreate in several dance numbers the feel of a Ziegfeld Follies extravaganza (albeit on a radically lower budget), and flashy (or at least flashing) design by a team of Tony winning pros, this "Funny Girl" offers some of the conventional pleasures of an old-fashioned Broadway musical. The charms of this revival, however, are just not rewarding enough to meet the expectations created for the show by Barbra Streisand more than half a century ago.
The problem with this uninspired revival of "Funny Girl" - which opened at the August Wilson Theatre on Sunday, marking the show's Broadway return after nearly 60 years - is not simply the singular ghost of she who shall not be named. (Alright: It's Barbra Streisand.) Rather, the issue here is the production's inability to live up to its star-making potential that would have made us once again forgive the simplistic, sentimental and sanitized original book credited to Isobel Lennart.
To rip the bandage off quickly: Feldstein is not stupendous. She's good. She's funny enough in places, and immensely likable always, as was already evident from her performances in the movies "Booksmart" and "Lady Bird" and, on Broadway, in "Hello, Dolly!" You root for her to raise the roof, but she only bumps against it a little. Her voice, though solid and sweet and clear, is not well suited to the music, and you feel her working as hard as she can to power through the gap. But working hard at what should be naturally extraordinary is not in Fanny's DNA. Still, you can't blame Feldstein for the show's problems; that would be like blaming the clown for the elephants. The main elephant is the book, written by Isobel Lennart and fiddled with for this production by Harvey Fierstein, to no avail.
Generally, however, they seem beached and static as a couple. He sees a poker game as more important than her opening night and is furious with her when she financially helps him. There are dry oil wells and phony bond deals, and finally jail. The show leaves the audience with the problem of not really having anyone to cheer for, or castigate. They are clearly an incompatible couple, and we are forced to spend an evening with them, not making any sense of their union. They have a child whose presence is passingly alluded to. Nick is not a crook, just weak; Fanny is not an overbearing partner, just loyal. And there we have it, over and over again.
Given the pedigree of the brassy "Don't Rain on My Parade" - one of those killer damn-the-torpedoes anthems that reliably raise heart rates - Feldstein has the immense task of sending the audience into intermission on a literal high note. She sings her heart out, and if it were just heart that was called for, she'd be a Fanny Brice for the ages.
In bringing back Funny Girl, Beanie Feldstein and director Michael Mayer seem admirably determined to make us forget both Barbra Streisand and the 1968 film of her 1964 Broadway hit. (Streisand turns 80 today on opening night, as it happens, which may not be the surest way to put her out of mind.) Granted, Feldstein is a less than stellar singer. She's a careful singer, which is to say, a dutifully trained one who's straining not to flub, hoping we'll tolerate the lack of brio needed to sell the likes of "People" and "The Music That Makes Me Dance." Well, Fanny Brice, the now-largely-forgotten subject of this musical bio, was no belter either. When she took on a ballad she got by with sincerity, and when Feldstein taps into the emotion of Jule Styne's melodies and Bob Merrill's lyrics, she does just fine.
The revival's shortcomings by no means rest entirely on Feldstein's shoulders. Neither director Michael Mayer nor script doctor Harvey Fierstein has solved the problems of the creaky book, which can't build Fanny's longing for offstage romantic fulfillment to match her professional success - and her eventual showbiz survivor resilience - into a robust through line. The show feels patchy and episodic and it needs a knockout, roof-raising lead to paper over the cracks... Feldstein gives a spirited, highly enjoyable performance, and her freshness drew squeals of appreciation from what seemed like a large contingent of very vocal young female fans on a recent press night. But she never quite makes the material soar, and this is a rickety vehicle that needs a supernova to put gas in its tank.
Some of Feldstein's assets do make the trip over from film: She's winningly fresh; she gives great "bumble;" she has beautiful eyes the size of hubcaps, which roll and twinkle and flirt. In the first act, when Brice is an inexperienced gal blustering her way into the big time, Feldstein exudes a nice mix of hard-charging ambition and surprised giddiness when she succeeds. But in song after song, Feldstein's voice lets her down. Piercing and unpleasant when it gets any higher than her chest, fading and pitchy when it descends even a few steps, it's simply not a sound you expect to hear on Broadway. Styne and lyricist Bob Merrill wrote some stunners for Funny Girl, including "People" and "Don't Rain on my Parade." The latter song sits in Feldstein's narrow comfort range, and so she blasts it out - particularly its final note - with foghorn force (if not phrasing). Everything else, though, goes sour.
Truth be told, "Funny Girl" is a star vehicle that is not much more than the leading role, as demonstrated by its weak and melodramatic book (which has been revised a bit by Harvey Fierstein) and the inferior quality of literally every song that is not sung by Fanny (many of which were cut from the film). Without an extraordinary lead performance, "Funny Girl" doesn't work - which is unfortunately the case here. Vocally, Feldstein is strained and nasal and unable to handle power solos like "I'm the Greatest Star," "People," "Don't Rain on My Parade," and "The Music That Makes Me Dance." She also overplays the comedy and resorts to mugging. (I question how Feldstein could even be cast as Fanny in a high school or theater camp production.)
The rain clouds gather early over the misplaced-pride parade that is the Broadway revival of Funny Girl. The audience is primed for a boffo old-fashioned musical comedy, which this production promises. Even before the curtain-which itself depicts a curtain!-goes up, the audience claps at the overture's most famous songs; when Beanie Feldstein makes her first appearance as Ziegfeld Follies comedian Fanny Brice, stares into an invisible mirror and delivers her famous opening self-affirmation ("Hello, gorgeous!"), the crowd goes wild. But then she starts to sing. It is unfair, but unavoidable, to compare Feldstein to Funny Girl's original leading lady, Barbra Streisand, who was not only a fresh comic talent at the time but also one of the greatest vocalists in Broadway history.
In the end, Broadway’s new Funny Girl feels like a musical comedy promise left unfulfilled. We’re told more than once that Fanny is hilarious and one-of-a-kind, but proof of that side-splitting singularity doesn’t materialize. So you long for something quirkier, zanier, more out-there and surprising. In short: Girl, show me the funny.
The audience members at "Funny Girl" are not the luckiest people in the world. They've waited a long, long time for the first-ever Broadway revival of the 1964 musical, which opened Sunday night at the August Wilson Theatre. Fifty-eight years! But the mediocrity that salivating Fanny Brice fans are finally laying their eyes on isn't particularly funny, or well sung, or well designed or well directed. This sorely lacking new production rains on the old musical's parade. It's clear from the get-go that the burden of anticipation and showbiz lore has not been kind to this "Girl."
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