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Review: FUNNY GIRL at The Kennedy Center

On stage through July 14th, 2024.

By: Jul. 01, 2024
Review: FUNNY GIRL at The Kennedy Center  Image
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 Funny Girl is a solidly entertaining vehicle for a high-profile performance by Katerina McCrimmon as beloved vaudeville performer Fanny Brice. Now playing at the Kennedy Center, this popular musical (from the original stage version starring Barbra Streisand and her Oscar-winning performance in the 1968 hit film –and the recent hit on Broadway starring Lea Michele) is a lively, sassy, and brassy summer musical treat. 

With the aid of the thrilling and glorious music by Jule Styne and character-driven lyrics by Bob Merrill, this story of striving for stardom (which reminds me a bit of A Star is Born---another Streisand vehicle –amongst several other versions) delivers the goods. This production directed by Michael Mayer is presented with a revised book by Harvey Fierstein (from the original book by Isobel Lennart) that emphasizes certain aspects that were not emphasized in the original version. As a result, the drama of the second act plays much more effectively than in the original. The soap opera feeling is gone as Brice’s fame overtakes the gambling tragedies of her husband Nick Arnstein (Stephen Mark Lukas) and it plays like heartfelt and consequential personal drama. 

As soon as the overture started playing and sections of “People”, “I’m the Greatest Star”, and “Don’t Rain on My Parade” filled the Opera House, chills went up my spine. It certainly is one of the greatest overtures in the musical theatre canon. According to the program, the Funny Girl Orchestra and the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra have joined forces under the music direction of conductor Elaine Davidson. The vibrant sound of the orchestras ---combined with the multi-layered orchestrations by Chris Walker and the music supervision of Michael Rafter make for a feast of musical pleasure.

The choreography by Ellenore Scott was an intricate mix of the many different movements needed and there is super-charged visceral energy onstage as all the dancers certainly had talent to spare. There is tap dancing excellence as choreographed by Ayodele Casel and embodied by Izaiah Montaque Harris as the charismatic Eddie. Harris embodied confidence and charm as he tapped solo as well as in the amusing duet with Mrs. Brice (a smiling Melissa Manchester) entitled “Who Taught Her Everything She Knows?”.

The lighting design by Kevin Adams is a winner---colorful ever-changing shafts of lights bouncing from the rafters and swiftly changing colors as they lit up the stage, added zip, vigor, and a feeling of show-biz brio to the evening. 

Katerina McCrimmon must show comedic, dramatic, and vocal chops and this she does in spades. McCrimmon showed hilarious comedic timing along with the character’s indomitable drive in “I’m the Greatest Star”, the marvelous duet “You Are Woman, I Am Man” (the business McCrimmon employs with a fan must be seen to be believed) and the hilarious ensemble brashness of the militaristic yet comedic “Rat-Tat-Tat-Tat.”

McCrimmon also “knocked it out of the park” with her renditions of the show-stopping “Don’t Rain On My Parade”, the scorching and emotional “The Music That Makes Me Dance” and the “Finale” which was a brilliant medley consisting of  snippets of the ruminative “You’re a Funny Girl” slowly morphing into the more self-confident “I’m the Greatest Star” and ultimately erupting into a triumphantly performed reprise of “Don’t Rain On My Parade.” 

As Nick Arnstein, Stephen Mark Lucas started off subtly but soon beguiled with his resonant voice in the beguiling duet (with McCrimmon’s Brice) “I Want To Be Seen With You.” Lucas “amped up” with an energetic “testament to testosterone” as he danced with the other men in the virile yet self-delusional “Temporary Arrangement.” 

Leading man Lucas conveyed his romantic wiles in the probing and loving duet “Who Are You Now?”—a question that he musically asks of himself as Arnstein and of McCrimmon’s Brice. 

His rendition of “You’re a Funny Girl” addressed to Fanny is full of shades of complexity and nuance as he realizes the depth of the pain behind the humorous defenses of his beloved wife.

Costume design by Susan Hilferty was resplendent with sequins and sparkles for the Ziegfeld Follies numbers to the everyday apparel of the period.

Scenic design by David Zinn was basic yet highly effective with one large stage space used to interchangeably convey Keeney’s music hall, Henry Street, the theatre stages where Brice would perform, a meticulously ornate romantic dinner suite and a train station. This unity of stage space helped to place the emphasis on the narrative of the musical. 

The opening and closing scenes of phantoms and memories of Brice’s past colliding and intermingling as she reminisced to herself at her dressing table were hauntingly evocative and reminded me of the ghosts of the past/showgirls in Sondheim’s Follies. 

As alluded to earlier, the revisions to the book by Harvey Fierstein are mostly effective although some of the changes such as having Eddie in almost every other scene seem forced and superimposed on the proceedings. (Also --there were slight sound problems the evening I attended --. I am not sure if this was due to the touring show’s sound system, acoustics, projection of voices, or simply a scenario that I am not aware of). 

Overall, this touring production is above par in its portrayal of the beloved tale of the road to stardom ---replete with personal and romantic strife, bruised egos, and bittersweet comedic retorts. The revised book has helped to reinvigorate a thin original book ---and the music and star power save the day. For a refreshing breeze of musical fresh air, do not miss this production of Funny Girl. 

Running Time:  160 minutes with one fifteen-minute intermission.

Funny Girl runs through July 14, 2024 at the Kennedy Center located at 2700 F Street, NW, Washington, DC, 20566. For tickets go to: 


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