Also see Richard's review of How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying
Thanks to those differences, and to director Gary F. Bell, a new contender can still hold her own. Lindsey Jones is the latest to stake her claim, singing the role terrifically, and playing comedy and tragedy with honesty and simplicity. And that's a good thing, too, because the staging here ultimately mines a lot more psychological depth than the movie. You're hearing the original, complex dialog from 1964, before it went through an emotional streamlining in the translation to film.
Jeffrey M. Wright is Nick Arnstein, and once again (like Ms. Jones) he shows a deeper-than-expected affinity for darker moods. And, though the play succeeds very nicely as light musical comedy, their final scene together opens up a universe of doubt and fear and grief"does he really mean that?" you ask, and then "does she really mean that?" you ask, over and over, as the relationship unravels.
That last scene between the two of them is darkly scintillating in its simplicity. This particular Nick Arnstein's descent (throughout) is almost as grim as Norman Main's in 1954's structurally similar A Star Is Born, though from different causes. Meanwhile, Ms. Jones is heartbreaking, trying to pass it all off with a smile. And her rendition of "The Music That Makes Me Dance" is one for the books.
But there are plenty of lighter moments, and great stylish singing from this Fanny. The big crowd scenes are wonderfully vibrant and full of uplift, thanks to the chorus and featured players: they appear on Henry Street and, after the intermission, on Long Island.
Laura Kyro is Mrs. Bryce: hard-nosed with her poker pals; and subtly stolid with her daughter. Zach Wachter is precise and professional, as always, as Fanny's confidant Eddie. But (at the risk of restricting artistic interpretation) he seems unexpectedly bitter in Eddie's (usually comic) duet with Mrs. Bryce, "Who Taught Her Everything?" Elsewhere, stage veteran Mike Monsey seems more comical than imposing as Florenz Ziegfeld. Maybe these two respected gentlemen should switch roles. Or I should just allow for more artistic freedom ...
There is also fine work by some of the busiest performers in town, Lynda Levy Clark, Lynda Waters, and Michael A. Wells.
Through August 9, 2014, at the Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee. For more information visit www.straydogtheatre.org. Music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Bob Merrill, and book by Isobel Lennart.