Regional Reviews: Raleigh/Durham
Isobel Lennart's book, which takes great liberties with historical truth, follows Fanny (an amazing Kendra Goehring) from a young girl hungry for stardom all the way to the famous Ziegfeld Follies. With help from her good friend Eddie Ryan (a dynamic Jason Aycock), Fanny is noticed first by entrepreneur and gambler Nick Arnstein (a charming Jon Berry), whom she eventually marries, and it is his introduction to the showman Florenz Ziegfeld (a fine Steve Hammer) that boosts Fanny to the stardom she craves. Fanny's patient mother (a fantastic Holli Saperstein) can finally boast of her daughter's accomplishments, but Fanny's rising star and Nick's declining luck are not a good match.
Though the show has a long first act and clocks in at almost three hours, there is rarely a dull moment. Some of the best music and lyrics of Jule Styne and Bob Merrill's partnership are present in this show, including standards like "People" and "Don't Rain on My Parade." These numbers are always going to bring down the house, and this production does very well by them. Special mention here goes to "Who Are You Now?", sung by Fanny and Nick as they reflect on their relationship. It is a lovely, heartfelt moment, performed beautifully by Ms. Goehring and Mr. Berry.
Director and choreographer Ray Kennedy is no stranger to the Opera House Theatre Company, having served in both capacities for numerous productions over the years. Knowing that it has long been a dream of Mr. Kennedy to bring Funny Girl to the stage, it was easy for me to see his passion in every detail. Adrian Jones and Brooklyne Williamson have assisted with the energetic choreography. Terry Collins's scenic design and Taylor Shelton's lighting design make good use of both simplicity and intricacy. Music direction by Brian Whitted and sound by Chris Dean bring the amazing score to life. And Debbie Scheu' costume design is a showstopper all by itself, including occasional nods to some of Streisand's iconic looks; the Ziegfeld Follies costumes are exceptional.
The role of Fanny Brice demands an actor who can hold her own for the entire show, with very few chances to get off stage. Kendra Goehring is more than up to the task; her comedic timing and vocal talent shine at every moment. Nick Arnstein is not as well developed a character, yet Jon Berry's quiet and unassuming performance builds steadily through the second act, showing his range as both an actor and singer. Holli Saperstein is perfect as Fanny's ever present, ever hopeful mother. And in Eddie Ryan, Jason Aycock has found an ideal opportunity to showcase his dynamic dancing and singing.
Funny Girl is not a perfect show, feeling a bit dated here and there. But its songs are timeless, and this production makes it clear why this show remains a classic of musical theatre. Don't miss it.
Funny Girl runs through September 11, 2022, at Opera House Theatre Company, Thalian Hall Center for the Performing Arts, at 310 Chestnut St. Wilmington NC. For tickets and information, please visit www.operahousetheatrecompany.org/shows, call 910-632-2285, or visit the ticket center at Thalian Hall in person.
Music: Jule Styne