It may seem as if no matter the cast or the script revision, “Funny Girl” is fated to suffer from the shadow of its original star Barbra Streisand who, in the 1960s, so fully embodied the lead (both on stage and screen) in this semi-biographical tale of Jewish showbiz legend Fanny Brice and made its score iconic with her hits of “People” and “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” that no one else could ever properly play the role.
Even the much-anticipated 2022 Broadway revival of this big, bright, old-school musical didn’t succeed to the extent people expected.
However, the Broadway tour, currently in production at DeVos Hall in Grand Rapids, has changed all that. Katerina McCrimmon is a phenomenal Fanny—quirky, adorable, quick, clever, ambitious, and utterly romantic all at once. She’s an exquisite comedienne with an astounding vocal range and ability: she makes you laugh out loud with her timing and delivery of lines but also gives you goosebumps and makes you verklempt as she alternately belts out huge songs and soothes you with sweet ballads by Jule Style with lyrics from Bob Merrill.
Rather than imitating Barbra, she makes the role her own with terrific physicality. Out of her huge mouth comes that glorious voice and she is fully committed to this character you can’t help but love, with her exaggerated facial gestures and brilliant physical comedy.
And though she has utter star quality, she’s no diva in the pejorative sense, and every bit of the rest of the brilliant cast, the impeccable costumes, stupendous sets, full orchestra (elegantly conducted by Elaine Davidson) complete the sumptuous spectacle of this truly fine production. Every detail is attended to, no expense spared. It’s truly dazzling. And it has heart.
This rags-to-riches story—about a not-beautiful girl from Brooklyn who becomes the star she’s always dreamed of becoming in the 1920s and falls in love with a “gorgeous” gambler, on whom she’ll risk everything—is a romance, but not just a complicated one between a woman and a man. It’s also about the love of the people and place where you’re from, the passion for theatre, and, ultimately, returning to yourself after you were willing to compromise everything.
Not every iteration of “Funny Girl” effectively tells this multi-faceted and deeply moving story, but this production, directed by Michael Mayer, does. And every single member of this ensemble does their part.
Stephen Mark Lukas is indeed a gorgeous Nick Arnstein who makes you want to root for him almost as much as you do for Fanny. His voice is especially lovely in the duet “Who Are You Now?” with McCrimmon, and he shines in the sexy “Temporary Arrangement” with the excellent ensemble of men whom you can’t take your eyes off whenever they strut their long legs and chiseled arms.
The ensemble of women are also extraordinary dancers and actors who are delightful in tap numbers that wow, choreographed by Ayodel Casel, dressed in colorful period costumes by Susan Hilferty, from bathing suits to shimmering glittering Ziegfeld showgirl frocks to mesmerizing butterflies complete with three-foot high head pieces.
There’s simply not a dull spot on stage, ever. Other notable performances include ‘80s Grammy-winning pop star Melissa Manchester as Mrs. Brice, utterly convincing as Fanny’s mom; Izaiah Montaque Harris as a charming Eddie Ryan with phenomenal tap skills; and David Foley, Jr. as a spitfire Tom Keeney.
Enormous stunning sets by David Zinn change frequently and seamlessly, from the exposed brick of backstage to the gorgeous floor-to-ceiling draped velvet curtains of the Follies’ stage to a full moon over Henry Street in Brooklyn, all lit to great effect by Kevin Adams.
This “Funny Girl” couldn’t be a greater success, and for anyone who loves musical theatre, it should not be missed. It’s an unforgettable, truly fulfilling night at the theatre.
Broadway Grand Rapids