Regional Reviews: San Francisco
Broadway by the Bay presents a Third Version of Funny Girl
Broadway by the Bay is currently presenting Jule Styne, Bob Merrill and Isobel Lennart's Funny Girl, running at the San Mateo Performing Arts Center until April 25th. This marks the third version of this classic show biz musical in the Bay Area during the past several years. This time around, Annmarie Martin stars as Fanny Brice, putting a new spin on the role.
Funny Girl opened on Broadway on March 26, 1964 at the Winter Garden Theatre and played 1348 performances over the next three years, transferring twice to different houses. We saw it just two days after its opening and could see that Barbra Streisand was going to be a mega star. There were two successful touring companies that hit the road: Dolores Michaels was in one tour and Mimi Hines played the starring role in another. Columbia/Rastar Films also had a box office bonanza when it released Ray Stark's version starring the divine Barbra.
Funny Girl was then shelved for many years, but the songs like "People," "Don't Rain on My Parade" and "You are Woman" became standards sung by the greatest names in show business. There have been several prominent regional productions in the last couple of years, and the once in a lifetime one night performance for Actors' Fund on September 23, 2002 featured not one but four great divas singing the show's songs.
The Bay Area has seen two very good productions by top regional companies during the past three years. The Willows had a good production with Jeanne Tinker in the starring role and last year AMT did a superb production with Rachel Ulanet playing the brassy star. [Reviews of these two productions are in Past Columns section.]
Broadway by the Bay now presents their popular star Annmarie Martin (Evita, Anything Goes, Kiss Me Kate and Chorus Line) in the role of the strident Fanny Brice. Ms. Martin plays the role differently than most actresses who have previously played the role. She plays the role without going too deeply into the Bronx Jewish accent. Occasionally it comes out, such as in the songs "You are Woman," "Sadie, Sadie," and "Rat-tat-tat-tat." However, Annmarie belts out "People" and "Don't Rain on My Parade" beautifully and she is wonderful in her rendition of "Who Are You Now." She makes this production well worthwhile.
Alex Perez as Nick Arnstein gives an uneven performance. His greatest forte is not his singing voice and he appears to strain on some of the notes. His first appearance dressed in an ill-fitting tux does not help either. However, Perez improves when he reaches the scene in the private dining room singing the duet "You are Woman." He radiates a certain charm.
Stephen Perez gives good account of himself as the tap dancing Eddie Ryan. He especially shines in the big second act number "Ra-tat-tat-tat" with some high stepping choreography by Berle Davis. Candy Campbell and Kay Arnaudo are good as Rose Brice and Mrs. Strakosh. They have the Bronx accent down fine and Ms. Campbell shines in the duet "Who Taught Her Everything" with Stephen Perez.
Choreographer Berle Davis does a creditable job on the big first act number "His Love Makes Me Beautiful"; however, it does not have the pizzazz past productions have posessed. It also looks as if he cut down the chorus line that was mostly female and just a few male dancers. Davis makes up for this with the fast paced tap dancing number of "Rat-tat-tat-tat." - the chorus line is great.
Broadway by the Bay was able to secure the old sets from the Santa Barbara warehouse. They could not use the elaborate AMT sets because they were too large for the San Mateo stage. These flat sets have seen better days.
The large orchestra under the direction of Brandon Adams is excellent. Adams captures the brassiness of the Jule Style score.
Funny Girl plays through April 25 at the San Mateo Performing Arts Center, 600 N. Delaware, San Mateo. Call 650-579-5568 ext 1 for tickets or visit their web site at www.broadwaybythebay.org.
Their next production is Bye Bye Birdie, opening on July 16, and they close the season with Cabaret on September 24.