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Southern Florida by John Lariviere


Fanny Brice: The Real Funny Girl

Also see John's reviews of Brighton Beach Memoirs and Shut Up, Sweet Charlotte

Fanny Brice: The Real Funny Girl
Marya Grandy and Lance Baker
The Maltz Jupiter Theatre presents the world premiere of Fanny Brice: The Real Funny Girl written, directed and choreographed by David H. Bell. Beloved as a fine singer and comedienne, Fanny Brice (born Fania Borach) was immortalized by the 1964 Broadway musical Funny Girl and the subsequent movie musical in 1968 starring Barbra Streisand. Her unique talents, her rise to fame in the entertainment industry, and the struggles of her personal life made Fanny Brice a subject that fascinates us still today.

Fania Borach was born in New York City in 1891. Her parents were Hungarian Jewish immigrants who became successful saloon owners. She dropped out of school in 1908 to work in a burlesque revue and changed her name to Fanny Brice. She began working with Florenz Ziegfeld at the age of nineteen, and headlined the Ziegfeld Follies from 1910-1930. As a singer she was best known for the songs "My Man" and "Second Hand Rose." From the 1930s till the time of her death in 1951 she performed on the radio as her famous character Baby Snooks. Brice married three times. Her first brief marriage was to a local barber. Her second husband, Nicky Arnstein, was a con man who drained Brice financially and served jail time in federal prison for Wall Street bond theft. The events surrounding their marriage and his legal woes received much publicity, but her public rallied to support her as the wronged woman. Her later marriage to producer/song writer Billy Rose also ended in divorce.

Brice's films include My Man, Be Yourself!, Everybody Sing, The Great Ziegfeld and Ziegfeld Follies. She posthumously received a Grammy Hall of Fame Award for her 1921 recording of "My Man" and has a star on the Hollywood Hall of Fame for her contribution to the motion picture industry.

Fanny Brice: The Real Funny Girl is set in 1930s Hollywood, during Fanny Brice's marriage to Billy Rose. Rose attempts to follow up on Brice's successful recent appearance playing herself in the film The Great Ziegfeld by having her write her autobiography in hopes of turning it into a film. He is also using the advance money for the project to help finance his own show, Billy Rose's Aquacade. While relating her life story to the man hired to type the screenplay, Brice relives the highlights through flashback scenes and songs. The action all takes place in a backstage studio area designed by Brian Sidney Bembridge. While the set works, it is somewhat lacking in color and variety. As the songs are those that Brice sang on specific occasions for different performances, this show calls itself a play with music rather than a musical. The music is well played by a live four-piece band led by Eric Alsford.

Marya Grandy is wonderfully cast as Fanny Brice. She has the right look for the role, and approximates her comedic style and delivery quite well. She is a strong performer with a lovely voice well suited to the songs of this time period, and seems to get close to the sound of Fanny Brice as well. Frank Kopyc is ideal as Ziegfeld and has a nice tenor voice as well. One wishes that the role of Ziegfeld could have been expanded, as there was a real friendship between the two over the years. Kopyc is especially funny as a ballet dancer in "Becky Is Back In The Ballet," which is also the number which demonstrates the best of Grandy's comedic ability. Considering the many years she performed, there are surely many Brice songs to select from. Some included in this production, such as "Cohen Owes Me Ninety-Seven Dollars" and "When I Lost You," are just not that interesting or seem to go on too long. The performance of Marya Grandy makes this show enjoyable, but it feels in need of a bigger cast, more developed characters and a stronger ending.

Writer and director David H. Bell is best known for his 1986 musical Hot Mikado, an adaptation of the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta The Mikado. He has worked regionally, on Broadway, Off-Broadway, and in London's West End. His work has received eleven Joseph Jefferson awards, an Olivier nomination, five Carbonell nominations, the Drama-logue award, The Bay Area award, seven Atlanta Journal Constitution "Best" awards, an Atlanta Circle of Dramatics award, two National Endowment Playwrighting awards, and one Helen Hayes award. His new musical The Bowery Boys is set to open in the near future at the Marriott Theatre in Chicago where he is a professor of Music Theatre at Northwestern University.

Fanny Brice: The Real Funny Girl appeared at the Maltz Jupiter Theatre November 10 - 22, 2009. The Maltz Jupiter Theatre is a 550-seat, nonprofit, community-based Equity regional theatre belonging to the League of Resident Theatres, and the Florida Professional Theatre Association. This theatre employees both local and non-local Equity and non-union cast and crew members. The theatre is located at 1001 Indiantown Rd. (just off of A1A) in Jupiter, FL. For tickets and complete information on the theatre's offerings, contact them by phone at 561/ 575-3332 or 800/ 445-1666, and online at www.jupitertheatre.org.

Cast:
Fanny Brice: Marya Grandy*
Billy Rose/Irving Berlin: Stef Tovar*
Nick Arnstein/Harold Underhill: Lance Baker*
Florenz Ziegfeld: Frank Kopyc*

Crew:
Director/Choreographer: David H. Bell***
Musical Director: Daniel Green
Scenic Design: Brian Sidney Bembridge**
Lighting Design: Donald Edmund** Thomas
Sound Design: Keith Kohrs
Costume Design: Nikki Delhomme**
Stage Manager: Emily Swiderski*

*Designates a member of Actors' Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States.

**Designates a member of the United Scenic Artists, Local USA 829, a labor union and professional association of Designers, Artists and Craftspeople.

***Designates a member of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society, Inc., an independent national labor union.


Photo: Alicia Tannery Donelan


See the current theatre season schedule for southern Florida.

-- John Lariviere



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