Regional Reviews: Seattle
A Funny Girl to Remember
Miss Davis makes no attempt to emulate Streisand, but she goes a helluva long way to give modern audiences a peek at the real Fanny Brice, early 20th century Ziegfeld Follies star, torch song singer, and radio favorite. Funny Girl also features the second best score the venerable Jule Styne (here teamed with under-rated lyricist Bob Merrill) ever wrote (only his Gypsy with Sondheim tops it). Isobel Lennart's book is almost as much of a fable as Gypsy, thanks to original Funny Girl producer Ray Stark insisting on softening up the characters of Fanny and her gambler husband Nick Arnstein, at the behest of their daughter Fran (aka Mrs. Ray Stark). But, if act one chronicling Fanny's meteoric rise from music hall hopeful to Ziegfeld mainstay tops the soggier second act showing her fairytale romance with Nick crumble due to his gambling and inability to accept being Mr. Fanny Brice, the Styne/Merrill songs save the dayalong with the performances of a delicious cast, who (unlike the co-stars of the Barbra-centric film version) actually get some story and songs of their own. And they all inhabit the stunning and opulent sets of master scenic designer Bill Forrester, exquisitely lit by lighting designer Aaron Copp, and wear costumes by Karen Ledger, which are equal parts stardust, spangles and dreams (Davis' gowns alone are jaw-dropping).
Davis starts the show as a thirtyish Fanny strolling down memory lane at her dressing room mirror, awaiting the return of husband Nick, just out of prison. She is plucky, yet vulnerable, as the young Fanny, pushing herself into a feature number at Keeney's Music Hall where she first meets her dream man. She comes out swingin' with "I'm the Greatest Star" and dominates the "Cornet Man" number, one of the dazzling tunes wrongly omitted or replaced in the film. Davis is vocally aces on all her big numbers, though "Don't Rain on My Parade" seems too statically staged to pack its full wallop. She caresses "People", clowns through "Sadie, Sadie", breaks your heart with "Who Are You Now?", slays us with her Yiddish Private Schwartz from Rockaway in "Rat-Tat-Tat-Tat" and then goes in for the kill with her penultimate moment, one of Styne's finest ballads ever, "The Music That Makes Me Dance."
As Nick, Logan Benedict is suave and handsome, and partners Davis well in two duets, "I Want to Be Seen With You Tonight" and "You Are Woman." He also conveys well the frustration of being an asteroid in the company of a comet. Bobbi Kotula warmly and wisely underplays Fanny's perceptive mam, Rosie Brice, and is in good company with fellow scene-stealers John David Scott as Fanny's staunch performer pal and would-be beau Eddie Ryan, and rubber-faced wonder Jayne Muirhead as the abrasive but lovable Mrs. Strakosh. Kotula and Scott serve up tasty vaudeville ham in "Who Taught Her Everything?" and Muirhead joins them for the jaunty trio "Find Yourself A Man." As the legendary Flo Ziegfeld, Don Collins is equal parts imposing and surrogate papa in his scenes with Davis.
The young and impressive ensemble is put expertly through some perfectly calibrated vintage style dance routines, including the hilarious and big, big, BIG "His Love Makes Me Beautiful," by choreographer Kristin Holland Bohr. Musical direction by Tim Symons and Bruce Monroe is pristine, and the orchestra conducted by Monroe could not sound more majestic, from amazing overture to curtain calls.
A Broadway bound revival of Funny Girl fell apart a few years ago. "Glee"'s Ryan Murphy wants to bring it back to New York with Lea Michele, who may not have the acting chops for it. If you, like so many in the opening night audience at Village, have never seen it on stage, walk, drive or take the nearest tugboat and see Miss Davis and company. It won't be any better on Broadway.
Funny Girl runs through July 6, 2014, at Village Theatre, 303 Front Street North, Issaquah, WA and July 11-August 3, 2014 at Everett P.A. Center, 2710 Wetmore Ave, Everett, WA. For more information go to www.villagetheatre.org.
- David Edward Hughes