Lea Michelle as Fannie Brice makes Funny Girl sing again on Broadway for the first time in more than 50 years, and she sings it well. She reminds the cheering audience of her musical chops (she sang many of these songs on the TV hit Glee) with first-act super-songs I’m the Greatest Star, People, and Don’t Rain on My Parade.
Nevertheless, Jared Grimes, as Eddie Ryan, Fanny’s choreographer, promoter, and pal, steals the act one limelight with a spectacular tap number.
Fifty-year Broadway veteran Tovah Feldshuh brings spring in her step and lower East side energy as Fanny’s mom, Mrs. Brice. Her renditions of If a Girl isn’t Pretty with her poker playing pals, and I am the Greatest Star with Fanny are both notable numbers.
Denizens of musical comedy are aware that the story of Fanny’s somewhat tortured relationship with gambler-con-man Nick Arnstein is a secondary plot of Funny Girl, alongside Fanny’s rise to the top of Flo Zigfield’s list of top stars.
However, the real-life, complicated relationship of Brice’s romance and marriage with Arnstein are somewhat convoluted in the show. Awkward and cipher-ish book aside, Arnstein (Ramin Karimloo) provides an excellent singing partner for Fanny.
This is where your reviewer admits that he saw Streisand in Funny Girl on Broadway in 1967. What I remember is that the show gave me chills. Streisand was utterly convincing as an awkward young Fanny Brice who grew into the greatest star, as the lyrics go. Unfortunately, Michelle is more of a great singer than actress and it shows especially in the first act as Fanny is breaking into the business.
Sets and costumes were adequate and worked well for the show but they are not what they once might have been. The curtain at the August Wilson theatre, for example, is an elaborate, vaudeville-style, velvet curtain painted on a flat piece of canvas instead of the real stuff, especially appropriate to this show. Many of the sets and costumes have a similar feel, while the streamlined styles and colors try to cleverly capture the past, they just don’t quite make it, especially in the several big show song and dance numbers, where I felt a bit costume-cheated.
Complaints aside, I thoroughly enjoyed the show. I did not get the “Streisand chills,” but I did feel the warm satisfaction of a nice revisit to a show not likely to return soon to Broadway.
- Book by: Isobel Lennart, revisions Harvey Fierstein
- Lyrics by: Bob Merrill
- Music by: Jule Style
- Director: Michael Mayer
- Cast includes: Lea Michelle, Ramin Karimloo, Jared Grimes, Tovah Feldshuh, Peter Francis James
- August Wilson Theatre NYC
- Until: Tickets available through May 28, 2023
- Running time: 2 hrs 50 mins including intermission
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