Musical Review

Funny Girl Puts the Focus Back on Fanny

How do you solve a problem like Fanny Brice? The role became so closely identified with the once-in-a-generation talents of Barbra Streisand who went on to win the Academy Award for the film adaptation, that it took 60 years for anyone to have the chutzpah to attempt a Broadway revival and take on the daunting task of finding a worthy successor. Having followed all the behind-the-scenes casting meshugas from the Beanie Feldstein debacle to Lea Michele’s emergence as the rightful heir, I was more than a little curious to see this latest iteration with a new Fanny (Katerina McCrimmon) for the North American tour of Funny Girl which landed at the Ahmanson Theatre playing now through April 28th.

Melissa Manchester and Katerina McCrimmon star as mother and daughter in
Melissa Manchester and Katerina McCrimmon star as mother and daughter in Funny Girl.

So where does Katerina McCrimmon rate on the Fanny meter? From the enthusiastic opening night reaction and the near consensus of critical raves, she knocked it out of the park. And to her credit, many aspects of her performance were on point. She’s certainly a vocal powerhouse which is a prerequisite for the role. McCrimmon’s more earthy rendering cuts through the Streisand mystique which has kept the role in mothballs these past 60 years and puts the focus back on Fanny Brice, which I think is ultimately a good thing.

That being said, I couldn’t help feeling that McCrimmon’s portrayal came across as more of a caricature (especially in the 1st act) which traded more on shtick than substance with familiar one-liners feeling a bit stale and shopworn. But as Fanny matures and takes on some gravitas in the 2nd act, some of that one-note shtick falls by the wayside and we’re allowed to see Fanny emerge as a woman who seems to be embracing her destiny as a performer, a wife and a mother. But it’s that first act that is really so crucial in winning over the audience and for this critic, it didn’t happen. The performance relied on overly broad humor and what felt like warmed over yucks which overshadowed the character’s more human vulnerable emotions in numbers like “People” and “I’m the Greatest Star” which require a little more nuance to resonate.

Izaiah Montaque Harris infuses
Izaiah Montaque Harris infuses Funny Girl with energetic tap routines.

As for the supporting players, Stephen Mark Lukas does an admirable job of bringing Nick to life. He certainly brings some of that Omar Sharif charisma to the role and even distinguishes himself in additional musical numbers which had been ditched in the original Broadway production and added back into the 2020 revival. Melissa Manchester, known for ‘70s power ballads like “Don’t Cry Out Loud” and “Come in from the Rain,” lends her sizable talents to the role of Fanny’s mother Rose. Manchester handles the role with finesse, employing a tender comedic touch in numbers like “Who Taught Her Everything She Knows” while shoring up the character’s more steely spine when called for as Nick’s arrest upends her daughter’s marriage. Izaiah Montaque Harris brings the flash and the flair with riveting tap numbers as Fanny’s longtime friend and confidant Eddie Ryan. Though the notion of Eddie as a credible romantic interest to Fanny falls flat, not only with Fanny but with the audience as well.

The other problem with this production is that the creative team shortchanges some of the big production numbers (specifically “His Love Makes Me Beautiful” and “Rat-Tat-Tat-Tat) by starting small with two dancers before bringing in reinforcements. Once you start small it sucks all the impact out of production numbers that are meant to dazzle. As a longtime fan of the show, I had high hopes. This production has its moments, but overall it misses the mark when it comes to delivering fully realized believable characters.

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