Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul
Also see Arty's recent review of The Seagull
Funny Girl's first Broadway revival finally arrived in Spring 2022, met with tepid reviews and box office. Its fortunes completely turned around after replacing the miscast lead, Beanie Feldman, with Lea Michele, who had practically made a fetish of singing "Don't Rain on My Parade" every chance she got, including on her TV series "Glee" and a Tony Award ceremony. The production became a smash and launched a national tour, which is in residence this week at the Orpheum in Minneapolis.
Funny Girl depends on a dazzling lead performance, such as Streisand and Michele delivered. The fabulous news is that we've got one: Katerina McCrimmon is so phenomenal as Fanny Brice, that I cannot imagine anyone visiting the Orpheum this week would wish they were seeing Michele or Streisand (other than, perhaps, for bragging rights) on stage. McCrimmon is the real deal, a Broadway-caliber star with little experience on Broadway–yet. She delivers breathtaking renditions of the shows three most potent songs, "People" and "Don't Rain on My Parade" (bringing the curtain down on the first act to tumultuous cheers), of course, along with the eloquent eleven o'clock torch song, "The Music that Makes Me Dance."
But much earlier in the show, with "I'm the Greatest Star," she transforms from a goofy showbiz wannabe into a bracing, belting, confident force of nature. She plays all the comical Ziegfeld Follies routines–"Cornet Man," "His Love Makes Me Beautiful," and "Rat-Tat-Tat-Tat"–with unbridled brio. What's more, she wonderfully conveys Fanny's range of complicated emotions from relentless ambition to insecurities about being a less than pretty Jewish girl to the heartache of being desperately in love with the idea of a man who can never live up to that idea.
The man is Nick Arnstein, a gambler and confidence man to whom Fanny Brice was married and with whom she had two children. When it isn't chronicling Fanny's rise from Brooklyn's lowly Henry Street to the top of the bill at the Ziegfeld Follies, Funny Girl deals with Fanny and Nick's romantic backstage courtship and the disastrous marriage that followed. That part of Isobel Lennart's original book for the show was never very strong. A revised book by Harvey Fierstein, written for a revival in the U.K. that preceded the Broadway production, makes pains to flesh out Arnstein's character, showing the emotions that drive him to make a ruinous decision with added dialogue and a couple of songs, but still doesn't do the trick. From the start, Nick Arnstein projects a suave, self-assured, gorgeous veneer that is irresistible to Fanny, while to all of the show's other significant characters, as well as to the audience, he is bad news, and nothing changes that.
Stephen Mark Lukas has the handsome, chiseled looks and suave voice to be believable as Fanny's irresistible object of desire. He sings well enough and is right on target in the early going, flattering Fanny with "I Want to Be Seen with You Tonight" and in the musical seduction "You Are Woman, I Am Man," with McCrimmon's Fanny countering in comical counterpoint. But things slide in the second act, when the added songs show up, and turn out to not be very good. Most unfortunate, "Temporary Arrangement," is a chance for Lukas to express his character through dance. Surrounded by a group of male dancers from the ensemble who all are just fine, it is clear that dance is not Lukas's strength.
On the other side of the spectrum, Izaiah Montaque Harris is a phenomenal dancer, shining in a couple of tap dance breaks, one in Act One for what seems no reason other than to let us see what the fellow can do–and does he ever! Harris plays Eddie Ryan, Fanny's friend from backstage in her early days who coaches her in song and dance, helping pave the way for her success. He clearly would like to be more than Fanny's friend, but she doesn't feel that way about him, and Harris winningly conveys long-suffering loyalty and truly good heart.
The other character of note is Fanny's gregarious mother, who always backs her daughter up and delivers straight talk. Barbara Tirrell is wonderful in this role, conveying warmth along with the survivor's instinct of a woman who worked hard to raise her children after her husband took off. Eileen T'Kaye as Mrs. Brice's busybody friend, Mrs. Strakosh, has nothing but laugh lines, and she delivers every one of them with aplomb. The jokes may be corny, but T'Kaye makes them into zingers.
The show is given clear direction by Michael Mayer, who directed it on Broadway. Funny Girl runs toward the long side, but this production moves briskly through the book scenes and stylishly staged musical numbers (the above mentioned "Temporary Arrangement" excepted). Ellenore Scott has devised vibrant choreography well suited to the early decades of the twentieth century, executed with vigor and grace by the ensemble. Ayodele Casel exceeds that grade with fantastic tap choreography.
The music sounds swell played by an excellent orchestra with fourteen musicians and the particularly brassy sound Jule Styne's music calls for (Bob Merrill wrote the lyrics). Speaking of Styne, he was a master of the overture and Funny Girl is one of his best, second only to his overture for Gypsy. I may have old school tastes, but when the overture starts by playing a brassy vamp that recurs throughout the show as the house lights dim, I know I am in the presence of a bona fide Broadway show. Those bona fides extend to the physical production with terrific sets (David Zinn), costumes (Susan Hilferty), and lighting (Kevin Adams) that converge to create the feel of Funny Girl's era.
With an array of winning elements, including a few songs for the ages, Funny Girl still depends on its leading lady to seal the deal, and the national tour delivers beyond expectations. I will be surprised if I don't see Katerina McCrimmon's name pop up before long in some future Broadway enterprise. When it does, I will have the satisfaction of having seen her glorious breakthrough performance.
Funny Girl runs through January 21, 2024, at the Orpheum Theatre, 910 Hennepin Avenue, Minneapolis MN. For tickets and information, please call 612-339-7007 or visit hennepintheatretrust.org. For information on the tour, visit funnygirlonbroadway.com/tour/.
Music: Jule Styne; Lyrics: Bob Merrill; Book: Isobel Lennart: Revised Book: Harvey Fierstein; Director: Michael Mayer; Choreography: Ellenore Scott; Tap Choreography: Ayodele Casel; Music Supervision: Michael Rafter; Scenic Design: David Zinn; Costume Design: Susan Hilferty; Lighting Design: Kevin Adams; Sound Design: Brian Roman and Cody Spencer; Hair Design: Campbell Young Associates; Associate Director: Johanna Additional McKeon; Associate Choreographer: Jeffrey Gugliotti; Orchestrations: Chris Walker; Dance, Vocal and Incidental Music Arrangements: Alan Williams; Additional Arrangements: Carmel Dean, David Dabbon; Music Director/Conductor: Elaine Davidson; Music Coordinator: Kimberlee Wertz; Casting: Jim Carnahan, CSA, Jason Thinger; Production Stage Manager: Jovan E. Shuck; Executive Producer; Seth Wenig.
Cast: Vinny Andaloro (swing), Lamont Brown (ensemble), Christine Bunuan (Mrs. Meeker), Kate E. Cook: (ensemble), Walter Coppage (Florenz Ziegfeld), David Foley Jr. (Tom Keeney), Julia Grondin (ensemble), Jackson Grove (ensemble), Izaiah Montague Harris (Eddie Ryan), Alex Hartman (ensemble), Dot Kelly (ensemble), Ryan Lambert (ensemble), Kathy Liu (ensemble), Stephen Mark Lukas (e), Nick Arnstein), Zoey Lytle (swing), Meghan Manning (ensemble), Katerina McCrimmon (Fanny Brice), Bryan Charles Moore (swing), Sami Murphy (ensemble), Leah Platt (Emma, Mrs. Nadler), Hannah Shankman (ensemble), Jordan Taylor (ensemble), Rodney Thompson (ensemble), Sean Thompson (ensemble), Barbara Tirrell (Mrs. Brice), Eileen T'Kaye (Mrs. Strakosh), Annaliese Wilbur (swing).