Funny Girl: Broadway at TPAC

Katerina McCrimmon as Fanny Brice and Stephen Mark Lukas as Nick Arnstein, photo by Matthew Murphy

Most of us know Funny Girl from the 1968 movie starring Barbra Streisand, who also starred in the original Broadway production of the musical. It’s a semi-autobiographical musical based on the life of Fanny Brice, who was a singer, actress, comedian, and radio personality. Framed as a flashback, the musical follows her journey from a star-struck teen who is told she isn’t pretty enough to succeed in show business, to getting her first roles, making her big break and falling in love. The second half of the musical focuses more on her life after professional success and her stormy relationship with a professional gambler. It’s a bittersweet comedy that emphasizes the humanity of its protagonist; it focuses more on its main character than on providing vicarious dream-fulfillment or success-bashing for the audience. 

This Broadway revival is the first North American tour of the show since 1996, and features a slightly updated book by Harvey Fierstein. Katerina McCrimmon stars as Fanny Brice and is fantastic. She is funny, she can dance well and has great comedic timing. Most of all, her voice is superb, powerful enough to fill Andrew Jackson Hall, and with a wide range that is always in her control.

Izaiah Montaque Harris as Eddie Ryan, photo by Matthew Murphy

Another favorite on the stage is Izaiah Montaque Harris, who plays Eddie, Fanny’s friend and a choreographer who teaches her moves that help her get big. His tap dancing, which features notably several times, is the best I’ve seen in a live performance, and leaves me wondering why tap dancing has faded from much mainstream consciousness. There are many dance numbers, especially with the ensemble, and Ayodele Casel’s tap choreography was probably my favorite part of the production. A few times during the performance I could feel the vibrations of audience members tapping their feet.

The sets were well designed, and the costumes, designed by Susan Hilferty, were delightful. The lavish shows of Fanny’s time provide a great variety of costumes, including giant butterflies, flower headdresses, sparkle, and delightful period clothing. 

With the classic 1960’s Broadway Sound, Funny Girl has melodies that stick in your head after the show. The funniest song is “His Love Makes Me Beautiful,” when Fanny Brice is early in her career and cast as a stunning bride in an opulent piece. She knows she doesn’t have the right stereotypical “beauty” look of the times for the song to be successful, so she adds one comic element to subvert the entire song from sentiment to hilarity. Here’s a link to a clip from the 1968 film:The Most Beautiful Bride | Funny Girl | Love Love. “You Are Woman, I Am Man,” is a funny song of seduction,  although the love interest, Nick Arnstein (played with charming humor by Stephen Mark Lukas) is a bundle of red flags. The most notable song of the musical is “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” with its contagious energy and rebellious catchiness, which Katerina McCrimmon sings with defiant vigor.

Ensemble, photo by Matthew Murphy

One part of the musical hasn’t aged terribly well; the character Nick Arnstein is an weak, insecure man who is upset about having a wife more successful than him, and he is given much sympathetic attention in the second act. Luckily for us now, most of us consider that regressive and not an understandable issue of pride. Of course, contemporary attitudes don’t change the issues people struggled with 100 years ago, and this shortcoming of the play can’t overpower its quality and joyful spirit.

Any fan of the theatre will enjoy this musical. Its music, humor, and story are iconic and it’s a spectacle of dance and colorful costumes. It is a memorable and unique show with an odd hybrid nostalgia of watching a 2024 performance of a classic 1960’s musical presenting its impression of early 20th century Broadway. 

Funny Girl is at TPAC January 2-7. For tickets and more information, see Funny Girl | Broadway Shows in Nashville at TPAC, and Funny Girl on Broadway

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