Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
One Night with Fanny Brice
Also see Susan's review of House of Gold
How well does Covington do incarnating an entertainment icon? She ably displays Fanny's winning comic style (although director Ellen Dempsey has downplayed the fact that Fanny could do cross-eyed slapstick as well as anyone) and vocal control: she carries Fanny from her thin, childhood speaking and singing voice through her adult stage success to her lisping "Baby Snooks" character on radio. She's also as adept with Fanny's signature torch songs, "My Man" and "Rose of Washington Square," as with novelties like "Don't Go In the Lion's Cage Tonight."
Playwright Chip Deffaa is a show-business historian and, while he never met Brice, he knew and knows people who did. His conceit is that Fanny has returned to the stage from the afterlife to give a final performance so she can discuss things that happened after her death. (She points out, for example thatunlike certain other stars whose children hated themher daughter and son-in-law, Frances and Ray Stark, loved her memory enough to become the motivators behind the creation of Funny Girl.)
As a single-performer vehicle, One Night with Fanny Brice does fall into the "and-then-I-wrote" trap. Fanny, assisted by pianist Tom Fuller, intersperses her songs with stories about her eventful life: father's drinking problem, stern mother, life in burlesque and vaudeville, a very brief early marriage, and the years with the crook she loved, Nick Arnstein.
One thing Deffaa does well is to offer samples of the lesser-known songs of vaudeville and burlesque that were in Fanny's repertoire. He includes the 1906 tune "When You Know You're Not Forgotten by the Girl You Can't Forget," which won young Fanny her first amateur night trophy; "Lovie Joe," her first Follies number, which was controversial in its time because the songwriters, Will Marion Cooke and Joe Jordan, were African-American; and "I'm an Indian," a choice example of Fanny's ethnic humor.
American Century Theater