By Gordon Meyer

“Funny Girl” is the Broadway musical and movie that made Barbra Streisand a star. She owned the role of Fanny Brice, the real-life star of the Ziegfeld Follies, radio and movies, whose “Baby Snooks” character was a fan favorite for decades. Brice’s daughter, Frances, married producer Ray Stark, who wanted to bring his mother in law’s life story to the screen. After years of development, Stark was convinced to initially mount it as a Broadway musical which was a huge success. Although Streisand had been  previously featured in a supporting role in the musical “I Can Get It For You Wholesale” (at the age of 19), “Funny Girl” was her first starring role.

Because her performance in both the original Broadway production and big screen adaptation was so iconic, to say it’s a challenge for contemporary actresses to take on the role Fanny Brice is an understatement. The current revival premiered on Broadway on April 24, 2022. Though the Broadway run ended on September 3, 2023. The current tour, directed by Broadway veteran Michael Mayer, began shortly after the Broadway run ended, stars Katerina McCrimmon as Fanny Brice and GRAMMY Award winning songwriter/performer Melissa Manchester as Mrs. Brice, is on tour through April, 2025.

Let me start off by saying, if you only know “Funny Girl” from the movie, be prepared for a different experience. Yes, the story is the same and most of the songs featured in the movie are there. But playwright Harvey Fierstein, who did a rewrite on the original script by Isobel Lennart, made a fair number of changes. In addition to the songs from the movie that fans have loved for decades, there a number of other songs I was not familiar with but thoroughly enjoyed.

For those not familiar with the story, “Funny Girl” tells a somewhat fictionalized version of the early years of Fanny Brice’s career, beginning with her featured run at a small, New York vaudeville house run by Tom Keeney (David Foley, Jr.) leading to her multi-year run as one of the stars of the Ziegfeld Follies. Along the way, she meets and falls in love with Nick Arnstein (Stephen Mark Lukas), a notorious gambler. Much of the story depicts their passionate, but often rocky relationship.

Even though it’s hard to compete with Streisand’s iconic performance, McCrimmon truly earned her lengthy standing ovation at the end of the performance. She balances both the humor and vulnerability that Brice’s story demands in a way that had the audience right in the palm of her hand. As for her singing voice, all I can say is WOW! Not surprisingly, her renditions of “I’m The Greatest Star” and “Don’t Rain on My Parade” were real showstoppers. Before you ask, no, McCrimmon isn’t Jewish, which some critics have a problem with that as Fanny Brice is a proudly Jewish character. Though her performance isn’t quite as ethnic as Streisand’s, McCrimmon is quite convincing in the role.

Pop icon Melissa Manchester plays Fanny’s mother, Rose Brice. I’ve long admired Manchester as a songwriter and recording artist but was pleasantly surprised as how well she played the middle aged, Jewish mama. Her comic timing was spot on and her performance was one of the highlights of this production. Sadly, I can’t say the same for Stephen Mark Lukas’ performance as Nick Arnstein. While he proved to be a powerhouse singer and dancer, he tended to overact so his dialog felt stiff and artificial. Don’t get me wrong. He wasn’t terrible. But I expected a more natural portrayal.

In addition to McCrimmon and Manchester, other standouts in the cast include Izaiah Monatque Harris as Brice’s mentor and choreographer, Eddie Ryan. Harris is featured in a kick ass solo tap dance number in the first act that had the audience cheering. In addition to Harris’ tap solo, there were other tap-intensive dance numbers, all of which were choreographed by Ayodele Casel. I hadn’t seen and enjoyed tap dancing on stage since seeing the Broadway version of “42nd Street.” Those tap routines were an example of material that was not in the movie but worked well in this production.  Ellenore Scott choreographed the non-tap musical numbers.

Mrs. Brice was usually accompanied by her two gossipy neighbors, Mrs. Meeker (Cindy Chang) and Mrs. Strakosh (Eileen T’Kaye). Together this trio of women form a sort of Greek Chorus, periodically commenting on story points with spot on comic timing. That trio was one of the other highlights of this production.

Not all 60-year-old musicals stand the test of time. But this production of “Funny Girl,” directed by Michael Mayer with Harvey Fierstein’s revised book (based on the original book by Isobel Lennart), is timeless entertainment and was a real treat, especially with the star making performance by Katerina McCrimmon.

Its Los Angeles run at the Ahmanson Theatre in downtown LA ends on April 28, 2024 when it moves to San Francisco and ultimately 22 other cities between now and April, 2025. For more information on the tour, visit the official website:


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