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Theatre Review: Katerina McCrimmon Can Never Rain on Streisand’s Iconic Parade

Before I launch into a review of director Michael Mayer’s touring production of Funny Girl,  currently on stage at the Ahmanson through Sunday, April 28, here’s a brief history of this, if not the most famous, certainly one of the top five of the most memorable Broadway musicals.   This musical hit Broadway in 1964 with what became an iconic score by Jule Styne and Bob Merrill.  The original book was written by Isobel Lennart and, for the current revival, was adapted by Tony winner Harvey Fierstein. It was through this original production that the world was introduced to newcomer Barbra Streisand, whose characterization of Fanny Brice launched her incredible career.  Later on, the stage version was adapted into a screenplay for which Miss Streisand was feted with an Academy Award and a Golden Globe.  She was voted the Female Voice of the last century with Frank Sinatra scoring the Male Voice award.  

Now to this production. The storyline is not complex.  Fanny Brice, a homely girl living on Henry Street on the Lower East Side of New York, is a born comedian and gifted with an outstanding singing voice (Katerina McCrimmon). Despite her plain looks, she is determined to become successful (I’m the Greatest Star).  She falls in love with Nicky Arnstein, a debonair scoundrel played by Stephen Mark Lukas (songs: Nicky Arnstein; You Are Woman, I Am Man; Who Are You Now?; His Love Makes Me Beautiful). Eventually, she is hired by Florenz Ziegfeld, performed by Walter Coppage, and after an over-the-top comic rendition of His Love Makes Me Beautiful, she becomes the number one star of the Ziegfeld Follies, totally capitalizing on her plainness, comic ability, and soaring voice. Despite her doomed relationship with her now husband, Fanny keeps moving (Don’t Rain on My Parade), and ultimately they painfully part ways. Melissa Manchester does a credible job as the quintessential Jewish mother, Mrs. Brice, with over-the-top performances by her “yenta” card-playing cronies Mrs. Strakosh (Eileen T’Kaye,),  Mrs. Meeker (Cindy Chang) and Mrs. Nadler (Leah Platt).

The production values are stellar beginning with David Zinn’s dazzling Scenic Design, outstanding costumes by Susan Hilferty, Sound Design by Brian Ronan and Cody Spencer, Dance, Vocal and Incidental Musical Arrangements by Alan Williams, Choreography by Ellenore Scott, Music Director/Conductor Elaine Davidson, all deliciously enhanced by Kevin Adams’ spectacular Lighting Design, drenching the stage with a panoply of dazzling colors.  Some of the most exciting moments were the incredible tap-dancing sequences tapped by Izaiah Montaque Harris as Eddie Ryan, who plays an integral part in Brice’s slow rise to fame. The rest of the talented ensemble added to the polish and professionalism of this production.

You must have huge “cojones” to even think about doing the lead role of Fanny Brice. Those of us of a certain age attach only one voice to some of the most unforgettable songs ever written and performed by Ms. Streisand. Unlike other musicals, the voices of those who originated the different roles are not imbedded in our musical memory. But, I could not help hearing that once-in-a lifetime voice in my head. Ms. McCrimmon has a finely honed vocal instrument, gliding easily from head voice to chest voice with enviable breath control – holding notes so long she actually received applause and howls from the captivated audience and knew exactly how to milk them and played them like a fiddle. She was clearly adored by the opening night audience, many of whom, I would suspect, were too young to have seen the original version.  No singer can ever fill those musical shoes, and I would encourage McCrimmon to find a pair of shoes of her own to fill.  She is clearly talented but too much of her characterization – especially some of the “New York Jewish” lines were echoes of Streisand’s.  There’s more than one way to play a New York Jewish girl.  Perhaps her most serious misstep was the handling of the classic  Arnstein:  “Do you like pate”?  Fanny:  “I drink it all day.”  These were seriously funny lines which she literally threw away.  All this said, once McCrimmon divorces herself from Fanny Brice, I suspect she will find her own “Music That Makes Her Dance.”

FUNNY GIRL

Ahmanson Theatre

135 N. Grand Avenue

Los Angeles, CA 90012

Book by:  Isobel Lennart

Revised Book:  Harvey Fierstein 

Music:  Jule Styne

Directed by Michael Mayer 

Lyrics:  Bob Merrill  

Music Supervision: Michael Rafter

Tickets: $45.60-$163.20 

Closing: 1:00 pm Sunday, April 28, 2024, 

Running Time:  2 hours & 40 minutes (One intermission)

Reservations:  (213) 972-4400 or 

www.CenterTheatreGroup.org

(Check the website for the performance schedule)

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