By Tulis McCall
OK. April 21, 1965. The Wintergarden Theater. I saw Streisand in Funny Girl.
An event like that does something to a person. It imprints. And nothing can dislodge it from its cubbyhole. Not even another production. Especially this one.
The plain and simple fact is that this Funny Girl is not funny (the audience on the day I saw it would beg to differ). Beanie Feldstein was a breath of hilarious fresh air in Hello Dolly. In this production she is being asked to shoulder the burden of not only the show, but the spirit of Fanny Bryce and the ghost of Barbra Streisand. It is a monumental task. Though she gives it her very best, she does not make it over the finish line in good shape.
Feldstein is more of an old fashioned vaudevillian, with a wink here, popping eyes there, and a gee whiz exasperation that she can turn on and off like a faucet. Depth, sensitivity and smoldering passion are not in her wheelhouse. At least not here.
Nor are there layers of complexity in most of the other characters. Jane Lynch (Mrs. Brice) has two facial expressions, and Jared Grimes (Eddie Ryan) has so little to do that he must rely on his considerable skills as a tap dancer to fill in the gaps.
Which is why this production rests on the very capable shoulders of Ramin Karimloo (Nick Arnstein). In this new hodge podge of a script (with revisions by Harvey Fierstein), Nicky Arnstein has been given a larger presence in the story. Originally, Nicky was a sidebar. Now he is a driving force. From the moment he enters, we cannot take our eyes off of him. To be sure he is very easy on the eyes. More importantly there is something going on inside him that pulls us in. Watching him watch Fanny when she sings “People” is a lesson in magic making. He listens with his entire self. Every moment is new. It is called acting, and Karimloo’s aim is true. Karimloo is also given two solos that were not in the original – “Temporary Arrangement” – as well as “Funny Girl” from the movie. Finally he shares a heartbreaking duet with Feldstein, “Who Are You Now” which was previously Fanny’s solo. The shipwreck of their love story is written in every moment. It makes your heart literally ache.
The other major elements that never flag are first of all – the orchestra, led by Michael Rafter. Although they are trapped beneath the stage, they are mighty. And hearing this music live once again is thrilling. The other element is the ensemble that graces every scene in which they appear. They tap. They soar as if on wings. They bring Henry Street alive as smoothly as they do Zigfeld’s extravaganzas. And they make it all look so easy. In addition, Peter Frances James does a very fine turn as Flo Zigfeld, endowing him with a heart as well as an eye for business.
The long and short of it is this:
April 21, 1965. I saw Streisand in Funny Girl.
April 27, 2022. I saw Karimloo in Funny Girl.
FUNNY GIRL score by Jule Styne and lyrics by Bob Merrill, ªadditional songs from Styne & Merrill). The original book by Isobel Lennart, from an original story by Miss Lennart,is revised by Harvey Fierstein. Michael Mayer directs.
FUNNY GIRL features choreography by Ellenore Scott, tap choreography by Ayodele Casel, scenic design by David Zinn, costume design by Susan Hilferty, lighting design by Kevin Adams, sound design by Brian Ronan, hair & wig design by Campbell Young Associates, music direction and supervision by Michael Rafter, orchestrations by Chris Walker, dance, vocal and incidental music arrangements by Alan Williams, and additional arrangements by David Dabbon and Carmel Dean
WITH Beanie Feldstein, Ramin Karimloo, Jared Grimes, Jane Lynch, Peter Francis James, Ephie Aardema, Debra Cardona, Toni DiBuono, Martin Moran, and includes Amber Ardolino, Daniel Beeman, Colin Bradbury, Kurt Thomas Csolak, John Michael Fiumara, Leslie Donna Flesner, Afra Hines, Masumi Iwai, Aliah James, Jeremiah James, Danielle Kelsey, Stephen Mark Lukas, Alicia Hadiya Lundgren, John Thomas Manzari, Liz McCartney, Katie Mitchell, Justin Prescott, Mariah Reives, Leslie Blake Walker, and Julie Benko.