Richard and I saw *Funny Girl* on Broadway on May 3, 2022. It’s a musical from 1964 about the comic, singer, and trailblazing Ziegfeld headliner Fanny Brice. It has music by Jule Style (he did this soon after *Gypsy*), lyrics by Bob Merrill, and a book by Isobel Lennart. It was the show that catapulted Barbra Streisand to fame and earned her a Best Actress Oscar for her movie debut. This production (directed by Michael Mayer) was the first time the show had been revived on Broadway.
Richard summed it up succinctly: “I liked it, but I’m not sure it was good.” The problem was the actor playing Fanny, Beanie Feldstein. I’ll get to her in a minute.
The high point of the show was a tap number by Jared Grimes, playing the role of Fanny’s friend and mentor Eddie. Holy crap he was amazing. His dancing was crisp and vigorous, a wonderful balance of effort and ease. He engaged with the audience in such a delightful way. He was a real treasure, kudos to him and tap choreographer Ayodele Casel.
The role of Fanny’s mother was played by Jane Lynch, and what a treat to see her onstage. She was charming and funny and has a strong voice. I was a little concerned that she would turn it into a Star Turn and suck all of the oxygen out of the room but no, she was a team player. She never drew focus when she shouldn’t.
In the performance we saw the role of Fanny’s boyfriend and eventual husband, Nick, was played by an understudy, Jeremiah James. He was something else - - a handsome man with a voice to match, he totally owned the stage, it didn’t feel like an understudy’s performance. I hope this leads to his own leading gig sometime soon.
And now for Beanie. We’re fans of hers from the movies *Booksmart* and *Lady Bird,* the TV series *Impeachment,* and a showy supporting role in the recent Broadway production of *Hello Dolly!* She’s got real star quality, which isn’t such a common commodity. We were (of course) sitting way up in the nosebleed seats and a large portion of the audience was people under 30 and they were CRAZY for her.
She was at her best in the numbers when Fanny was giving a performance - - “His Love Makes Me Beautiful,” “Rat Tat Tat,” and especially “Cornet Man.” She was full of pizzazz. One of the most memorable moments of her performance was in the song “You Are Woman, I Am Man.” Nick has taken Fanny to a private room in a restaurant and he’s seducing her. She’s on a couch, he approaches her, and she falls off the couch and rolls downstage. Feldstein did about two full rolls, it was a scream.
The problem with her performance was that in spite of her having a strong voice (she had no problem with “Don’t Rain On My Parade”), she isn’t really a juicy or expressive singer. This was a big problem with the ballads, and she has three of them: “Who Are You Now?,” “The Music That Makes Me Dance,” and the best known song from the show, “People.” She sang them well enough but she didn’t draw us in, the singing wasn’t fully invested. Singing a ballad well is about taking something inward and projecting it outward and Feldstein wasn’t able to do that.
Her greatest moment was in the final scene. The book for this production had been revised by Harvey Fierstein. I don’t know the original at all, so I can’t compare, but I imagine he tweaked this final scene - - it’s a soliloquy by Fanny, sitting at her dressing room table, looking back on her life and the choices she’s made. It starts with a bitter, sadder-but-maybe-not-wiser song called “Funny Girl” and gradually builds into a reprise of “Don’t Rain On My Parade.” Feldstein sang “Funny Girl” with subtlety and quiet intensity and she managed the transition to the big, belting finale with skill. I will definitely see her in her next Broadway show, I just hope it’s a better fit for her.