Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

One Night with Fanny Brice

Also see Susan's review of House of Gold

Esther Covington
Most people today who know the name Fanny Brice (1891-1951) assume that she looked and sounded like Barbra Streisand, who played the Ziegfeld Follies star in the stage and film version of the musical Funny Girl. American Century Theater in Arlington, Virginia, hopes to rectify that situation with One Night with Fanny Brice, which places the talented Esther Covington in the spotlight.

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 that—unlike certain other stars whose children hated them—her 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
One Night with Fanny Brice
November 5th —27th
By Chip Deffaa
Fanny Brice: Esther Covington
Pianist: Tom Fuller
Directed by Ellen Dempsey
Rosslyn Spectrum, 1611 N. Kent St.
Arlington, VA
Ticket Information:

Photo: Dennis Deloria