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This review by Simon Saltzman was prepared for the
May 9, 2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Review: `Funny Girl’
It may come as a shock to those not familiar with the
musical, but there is nothing very funny about "Funny Girl."
The Jule Styne and Bob Merrill musical that catapulted Barbra
to fame and long fingernails in 1964 has not had a major New York
area revival. Seeing it again, one can understand why. This, despite
the presence of a young and zesty newcomer Leslie Kritzer in the
role of Fanny Brice, the legendary Ziegfeld star.
What the Paper Mill Playhouse did so splendidly for the Sondheim’s
Ziegfeldian-styled "Follies," it is doing a little less so
for this musical that suggests the life (through the discourtesy of
Isobel Lennart’s skimpy and spineless book) of the extraordinarily
talented meeskite who rose from burlesque to vaudeville to Broadway
stage. Brice’s bitter marriage to the handsome gambler Nicky Arnstein
provides the core of the story. Brice, however, would eventually enter
immortality as the voice of Baby Snooks on the radio, a role she
in the 1936 edition of the Follies. For what it’s worth, another
musical "Gypsy" (written five years earlier) was a much finer,
musically richer, and grittier backstage musical.
It isn’t entirely Kritzer’s fault that Brice, in this made-to-measure
showcase, isn’t conceived or perceived with a shred of reality.
the movie does a much better job of finding a modicum of truth in
what is otherwise mere backstage claptrap and gussied up theatrical
hokum. Under Robert Johanson’s slick direction, Kritzer careens
from one not-so-funny musical number to another and from grimaces
to grins with the energy and determination of a bulldozer. Blessed
with an impressive voice that mercifully brings a variety of textures
to the show’s best tunes, "People," "Don’t Rain on My
Parade," and The Music That Makes Me Dance." Kritzer,
doesn’t, or hasn’t been directed to, channel more than an eventually
tiresome sameness of behavior and attitude into the role. Whether
it’s the schmaltz of the dramatic scenes or the shtick of the skits,
Kritzer is less handicapped by following in Streisand’s memorably
gawky footsteps, but by the essentially banal material. For Kritzler,
the trick will be to parlay whatever personal success is awarded her
into a vehicle she can truly call her own. She is a find.
Even more interesting is that Robert Cuccioli makes the kind of impact
in the role of Arnstein that Sidney Chaplin couldn’t and didn’t in
the original Broadway cast. Already established as a New Jersey
idol, the imposing Cuccioli takes command of a thankless and musically
spare role and delivers a dashing account of Brice’s no luck lover.
Bob Dorian portrays an imperious Florenz Ziegfeld as if that was all
there was to play. An ebullient and endearing Robert Creighton makes
a strong impression as Eddie Ryan, Brice’s childhood friend.
Michael Lichtefeld’s choreography provides what is par for a downtown
block party, and what is obligatory for an uptown Follies show.
and just as true as it was in 1964, neither of the show’s big musical
numbers musters up the laughs they should. In particular is Brice’s
misconceived debut number with the 1910 Follies. In it Brice, sings
"His Love Makes Me Beautiful," as she sashays down a staircase
as a grotesquely pregnant bride amongst a bevy of gorgeous Follies
girls. It’s merely tasteless, something that Ziegfeld wouldn’t
It’s also absurd to think that Ziegfeld would introduce Brice, his
new-featured comedienne and singer, in this way. In truth, Brice made
her debut singing "Lovey Joe," a "coon" song in black
dialect with a Yiddish accent and stopped the show. Politically
to be sure, but can you imagine how funny that must have been?
it was the 1910 edition of the Follies in which comic Bert Williams
became the first black entertainer to share a stage with white
although he was only permitted his solo vaudeville routine. Together
they made the relatively new Follies the talk of Broadway. Curiously,
Williams is not even mentioned in the script.
The other big production number — "Rat-Tat-Tat-Tat" —
is better at showing off the priceless Brice image. This time Kritzer
has a chance to display some physical comedy as a bufoonish Private
Schwartz clumsily drilling with an army platoon. As expected designers
Michael Anania (sets), David Murin (costumes), and Mark Stanley
have embroidered a lot of mediocre doings with the prerequisite glitz
and glamour. All quibbling aside, you really can’t go too far wrong
with a Styne score, a game and talented cast, and a stage full of
— Simon Saltzman
Millburn, 973-376-4343. Performances continue to May 20. $37 to $60.
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