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FUNNY GIRL Shea's Buffalo
Feb 14, 2024, 10:27
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Through February 18
FUNNY GIRL Shea’s Buffalo

By Augustine Warner

A century ago, Fanny Brice was an entertainment force, as a star of Broadway’s Ziegfeld Follies.
Four decades later, in 1964, her son-in-law, Hollywood producer Ray Stark, made the star visible again when Barbra Streisand became Brice in “Funny Girl,” a smash musical look at the performer and her tangled relationship with criminal husband Nick Arnstein.
Several songs from the show are in that fuzzy “Great American Songbook,” “People,” “I’m The Greatest Star” and “Don’t Rain On My Parade.”
“Funny Girl” is familiar to many young people because it was the high school musical in their school, with large cast possibilities and the “star turn” opportunities in playing Brice and Arnstein.
As those show directors realize, it’s a tricky show because casting the Brice role isn’t easy.
I saw the original Broadway show and Streisand was a force of nature on stage and later in the movie.
That’s why it wasn’t until last year that the show was revived on Broadway and it initially didn’t go well because of casting choices.
It improved with cast changes.
The production in Shea’s is entertaining, well done and certainly well-received by a packed Opening Night audience, featuring Katerina McCrimmon as Brice and Stephen Mark Lucas from the Broadway cast as Arnstein.
There are strong production numbers, a flashy series of sets and lots of tap, as in “Rat-Tat-Tat-Tat.”
It’s all dominated by McCrimmon, a tough role because she never seems off-stage.
The Fanny Brice character requires a performer with amazing pipes, needed for the Jule Styne and Bob Merrill songs, who can project a personality and also dance reasonably well.
For this revival, playwright and star Harvey Fierstein was brought in for a new story line.
This retains the tensions between Brice and Arnstein although looking back, it seems to me Arnstein was more of a bad guy in the original show.
There’s also the social rise in the show because Brice is portrayed as a stage-obsessed girl who rises from the ghetto of “Henry Street” to becoming a “Bold-Faced Name” in the Follies.
Her early life was better than that, but the creators of the show saw rags to riches as a much better story line.
Florenz Ziegfeld’s Follies slogan was “glorifying the American girl.”
That pushes a lot of buttons today but in the years of those musical revues, that was really what they claimed to do, even if the costumes were a little sketchy and the songs might be also, even if written by some of the best songwriters of the time.
The shows also created star careers for performers like Eddie Cantor and Bob Hope…and Brice.
The Shea’s stage conveys that, using technology and costume materials never available to Ziegfeld’s workers.
The show has lots of strong performances from secondary characters, like Barbara Tirrell’s Mrs. Brice or Iziah Montaque Harris’ Eddie Ryan, Tirrell’s singing and Harris tapping.
The show is filled with wonderful production numbers, starting with “If A Girl Isn’t Pretty” through “Henry Street” to “What Do Happy People Do?
The Follies was famous for its costumes and this show is filled with them, using those new materials.
“Funny Girl” is a classic old-fashioned Broadway mix of singing, dancing and a memorable and nearly true story and it’s in the Theatre District.

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