Funny Girl

The musical “Funny Girl” opened on Broadway on March 26, 1964, at the Winter Garden Theatre. It received eight Tony nominations, including Best Musical. “Funny Girl” made a star of the now iconic actress and singer Barbra Streisand, who was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical for her portrayal of Fannie Brice. Streisand went to star in the 1968 film version, directed by William Wyler, opposite Omar Sharif, winning an Academy Award for Best Actress. (She tied with Katharine Hepburn for “The Lion in Winter.”)

“Funny Girl”

August Wilson Theatre
245 West 52nd St.
New York, NY 10019

This is the first revival of the musical since its premiere in 1964. “Funny Girl” is a musical biography of comedienne, actress, singer and vaudeville star Fanny Brice. It also deals with her relationship with Nicky Arnstein, who was notorious as a professional gambler and con artist.

Beanie Feldstein was chosen to play Fanny Brice. It is unfair to compare her to Streisand, but can she handle the role and carry the musical? Feldstein, whose true forte lies in comedy, can well handle the comedic part of the role. Unfortunately, she doesn’t have the belty voice nor the vocal range to handle the score. Then, word came out that Feldstein’s father is one of the main producers: Was it nepotism that won her the role? She did not get good reviews, most of them were rather savage. She did not get any award nominations and was overlooked for a Tony Award, as was the musical itself. She has missed many performances, and had COVID, which forced her to miss an additional week. Her standby, Julie Benko, has received much praise for her portrayal of Fanny, many calling it a star making performance.

At the performance I attended, Ramin Karimloo, who portrays Nicky Arnstein, was out due to COVID. His standby, Jeremiah James, filled in for him and stole the show. He is oozing with charm and has a smooth silky voice. James gave far and above the best performance in “Funny Girl.”

Jared Grimes portrays Fanny’s dance director, Eddie Ryan. Though he is a tap dancer extraordinaire, his acting is wooden. His tapping did win him award nominations, including a Tony Award nomination for Best Featured Actor in a Musical, the show’s only Tony nomination.

Jane Lynch plays Mrs. Brice, Fanny’s mother. She is woefully miscast. Lynch is the tallest person onstage and towers above the very much shorter Feldstein. Though she can carry a tune, she will never be considered a singer. Lynch is the total antithesis of a Jewish mother. Jane Lynch, “you are the weakest link! Goodbye!”

It was announced that Feldstein and Lynch would be leaving on Sept. 25. Then, Feldstein pushed up the date and left the show on July 31. This is probably a combination of her wanting to separate herself from the disastrous reviews and speculation that the producers bought her out to try to salvage the production, get favorable press and continue the run.

Benko will be playing Fanny Brice for performances from Aug. 1 through Sept. 4. Beginning on Sept. 6, “Glee” and “Spring Awakening” star Lea Michele will portray Fanny Brice for all performances, excluding Thursday nights when Benko will play Fanny. Lynch’s final performance as Mrs. Rosie Brice will be on Sept. 4, with Tony Award nominee Tovah Feldshuh taking over on Sept. 6.

Michele has campaigned very hard for this role, not only singing “Don’t Rain on My Parade” on “Glee,” but also on the Tony Awards several years ago. She does have a bad reputation for being a diva and not getting along with her costars. Several of her “Glee” costars have complained, vociferously, about her bad behavior. Feldshuh looks to be perfection. Not only is she an excellent actress and singer but she is a Jewish mother.

The wonderful score, which has many great songs, has music by the great Jule Stein and lyrics by Bob Merrill.