Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: St. Louis

Funny Girl
Stray Dog Theatre

Also see Richard's review of How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying

Lindsey Jones and Chorus
It's a good thing the fifty-year old stage version of Funny Girl has so many different songs in the score, than the movie version that came four years later—I count eight tunes that didn't make the transfer to film (plus one or two more that were staged differently). And Stray Dog Theatre uses each one to help tell the story and shake things up for the modern audience. It gives this new production a nice distance from the movie, and this new Fanny and Nick at least eight more chances to shine, without the odious threat of comparison.

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.

Fanny Brice: Lindsey Jones
John, Stage Manager: Corey Fraine
Emma: Eileen Engel
Mrs. Brice: Laura Kyro
Mrs. Strakosh: Lynda Levy Clark
Mrs. Meeker: Jan Niehoff
Mrs. O'Malley: Lynda Waters
Tom Keeney: Michael A. Wells
Eddie Ryan: Zach Wachter
Heckie: Kelvin Urday
Workmen: Male Ensemble
Bubbles: Emily C. Johnson
Polly: Kendra Moore
Maude: Rachel Kuenzi
Nick Arnstein: Jeffrey M. Wright
Florenz Ziegfeld, Jr.: Michael Monsey
Mimsey: Angela Bubash
Ziegfeld Tenor: Kelvin Urday
Mrs. Nadler: Emily C. Johnson
Paul: Brendan Ochs
Cathy: Rachel Kuenzi
Vera: Sara Rae Womack
Jenny: Angela Bubash
Mr. Renaldi: Michael A. Wells

Acoustic Bass: Andrew Gurney
Director/Keyboard: Chris Petersen
Percussion: Bob McMahon
Reeds: Gabe Newsham
Reeds: Harrison Rich
Trumpet: Andrew "AJ" Lane

Director: Gary F. Bell
Music and Vocal Director: Chris Petersen
Choreographer: Zachary Stefaniak
Scenic Designer: Robert J. Lippert
Costume Designer: Gary F. Bell
Lighting Designer: Tyler Duenow
Stage Manager: Justin Been
Production Manager: Jay V. Hall

Photo: John Lamb

-- Richard T. Green

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