Reviews are in for the Broadway revival of Funny Girl at August Wilson Theatre in New York starring Beanie Feldstein and Ramin Karimloo.
This highly anticipated classic, not seen on Broadway since “she who must not be named” set the gold standard way back in 1964 was always going to divide opinion. Who could escape the long shadow of Streisand giving her acclaimed tour de force performance? Who would dare?
The show’s score is by Jule Styne and Bob Merrill, with a revised book from Harvey Fierstein based on the original classic by Isobel Lennart. Tap choreography is by Ayodele Casel, with choreography by Ellenore Scott, and direction from Michael Mayer.
The bittersweet comedy is about the indomitable Fanny Brice, a girl from the Lower East Side who dreamed of a life on the stage. Everyone told her she’d never be a star, but then something funny happened—she became one of the most beloved performers in history, shining brighter than the brightest lights of Broadway.
Universally acknowledged, Isobel Lennart’s book has always been the shows achilles heel and Harvey Fierstein’s tinkering doesn’t appear to have been enough for the critics to alter opinion of this old problem.
Famous songs in the show include “Don’t Rain On My Parade,” “I’m the Greatest Star,” and “People.”
Casting is key, and never so much as with this show. Comic actress Beanie Feldstein in the title role seemed like a good idea – you could limit the comparison to Streisand, but for a show that’s known for a couple of good songs – is she be enough?
Joining Beanie and Ramin in the show are Jane Lynch as Mrs Brice, Jared Grimes as Eddie Ryan, Peter Francis James as Florenz Ziegfeld, Ephie Aardema as Emma/Mrs. Nadler, Debra Cardona as Mrs. Meeker, Toni DiBuono as Mrs. Strakosh, Martin Moran as Tom Keeney, and Julie Benko as the standby for Fanny Brice.
Read our round-up of reviews for Funny Girl below.
Funny Girl is playing at the August Wilson Theatre in New York.
"An Underpowered Revival Brings Fanny Brice Back to Broadway"
"The problem with this uninspired revival.. is the production’s inability to live up to its star-making potential that would have made us once again forgive the simplistic, sentimental and sanitized original book credited to Isobel Lennart."
"The script, revised by Harvey Fierstein for this production, still fails to come to terms to any great degree with the disconnect in the relationship of Fanny and gambler husband Nicky Arnstein, effortlessly played and stunningly sung by Ramin Karimloo."
"Feldstein’s performance — never goes far beyond the sentimental, tiresome and not-exactly-of-the-moment cliche of the woman who can’t stop loving her man, even after nearly every character on stage (not to mention the audience) knows it’s doomed. An end-of-show empowerment reprise of “Don’t Rain on My Parade” is too little, too late."
"Jane Lynch as Franny’s loving, wry mother is splendid and lands every laugh with the greatest of ease."
"The production, under Michael Mayer’s direction, gets little help from David Zinn’s unattractive set, dominated by what looks like a giant brick silo; Susan Hilferty’s sometimes garish and unflattering costumes does the leading lady no favors; nor does Ellenore Scott ever elevate the show’s choreography above standard fare."
"Move Over, Barbra. Welcome, Beanie. A New Star Is Born."
"Like everyone else, I arrived at this refurbished classic dragging anxiety, trepidation and a show-me attitude with me, one eyebrow arched and wondering if this roly-poly newcomer was a misguided fool or the bravest kid in show business."
"One of several things accomplished by the newly revised book by Harvey Fierstein and the nimble direction of Michael Mayer in the shoes once filled by Garson Kanin is the shuffling around of the musical numbers. You don’t have to wait until the end of the first act for “People” or feel the thrill when your heart skips a beat on the passionate “Don’t Rain on My Parade”. They knock your socks off before the intermission. By that time, the star’s hidden magic hits you squarely in the heart in ways you didn’t see coming."
"She’s not the reincarnation of Barbra, and, wisely, no pale imitation, either (close but no cigar). She can’t sing like Streisand, although her voice is beautiful and clarion-clear, and musically, it hits the top of the second balcony without even trying. I think it’s safe to say she lacks both the same comic timing and the coldly calculated genius. But she does have one thing her legendary predecessor in the role did not have—a sweet, warm truthfulness that makes her more accessible. She’s familiar, comfortable in her skin, like an old friend. You’re wary and cautious at first, but she grows on you, like a lichen. By the time the intermission seamlessly arrives, you’re in love."
"Broadway’s First ‘Funny Girl’ Revival Shows Why It Took So Long"
"To rip the bandage off quickly: Feldstein is not stupendous. She’s good. She’s funny enough in places, and immensely likable always, as was already evident from her performances in the movies “Booksmart” and “Lady Bird” and, on Broadway, in “Hello, Dolly!” You root for her to raise the roof, but she only bumps against it a little. Her voice, though solid and sweet and clear, is not well suited to the music, and you feel her working as hard as she can to power through the gap. But working hard at what should be naturally extraordinary is not in Fanny’s DNA."
"Still, you can’t blame Feldstein for the show’s problems; that would be like blaming the clown for the elephants. The main elephant is the book, written by Isobel Lennart and fiddled with for this production by Harvey Fierstein, to no avail."
"Mayer’s staging, which at times seems to aim for the ghostly nostalgia of “Follies,” feels lumbering and underfunded, with cheap-looking sets (by David Zinn), a cast of 22 in place of the original 43 and wan new orchestrations for 14 players, based on the glorious originals by Ralph Burns for 25. (You’re going to sell me “People” with two violins?) Only the aptly gaudy costumes by Susan Hilferty suggest the Ziegfeldian overabundance that shows like “Funny Girl” were designed to purvey."
"She’s Back, Finally, and Very Different"Feldstein doesn't possess Streisand's voice, but what she does offer is a sweet, piping sound that encompasses the score's range from E below middle C to a high F. Equally important, she respects that 1964 score and doesn't modernize it with a lot of melismatic distortions."
" Feldstein is a quirky, offbeat choice to play Fanny Brice. But then, Streisand was also a quirky, offbeat choice back in 1964. Carol Burnett and Anne Bancroft were the more conventional choices back then."
"The big news surrounding this revival is not the leading lady, however. It’s the guys, director Michael Mayer and Harvey Fierstein, who revised the book. Fierstein has sharpened the dialogue throughout, and while the new second act is not vintage Broadway, it’s no longer a complete dud. In other words, it works."
"The revised book doesn’t fix the fact that the star becomes a reactive character in the second act. Also, Feldstein never convinces us that she has suddenly become a diva. The new second act does manage to make Arnstein a character worth watching, and this production is enhanced by Karimloo’s charismatic performance. It helps immensely that he reprises “People” briefly and goes on to sing “Funny Girl.”
"The hurdle with Funny Girl is that it has just two great songs"
"Feldstein has emerged as an irresistible screen presence .... she has a lovely, light singing voice in a part that often calls for big-belt power, and she reads girlish, never quite selling the consuming hunger that propels Fanny to stardom in the early-1920s Ziegfeld Follies. Feldstein leans hard on the comedy with enormous charm, but she struggles to locate the raw vulnerability of Fanny in later years, as her marriage to inveterate gambler Nick Arnstein (Ramin Karimloo) falls apart."
"The show feels patchy and episodic and it needs a knockout, roof-raising lead to paper over the cracks."
"Feldstein gives a spirited, highly enjoyable performance, and her freshness drew squeals of appreciation from what seemed like a large contingent of very vocal young female fans on a recent press night. But she never quite makes the material soar, and this is a rickety vehicle that needs a supernova to put gas in its tank."
"The rain clouds gather early"
"there’s a reason Funny Girl hasn’t been revived since its original run in the early 1960s: Despite several memorable songs (with first-rate tunes by Jule Styne and second-rate lyrics by Bob Merrill), there’s not much to the story"
" It’s also an attractive production, thanks to Kevin Adams’s lighting, Susan Hilferty’s marvelous costumes—Feldstein looks fab throughout—and David Zinn’s well-imagined set, whose central cylindrical tower of brick opens up to reveal a suite of other spaces. But you know a production of Funny Girl hasn’t clicked when you leave thinking, Well, at least it was pretty. "
"The audience members at “Funny Girl” are not the luckiest people in the world."
"The actors’ efforts — to Feldstein’s credit, she is clearly working very hard — are further undone by David Zinn’s set: a brick-lined Pringles can that repeatedly opens and closes to reveal red-velvet curtains, or a dressing room, or a stately house. It’s the stuff of coupons. The glam of showbiz is never brought to dazzling life, and we spend too much time staring at red bricks and dirty mirrors.
From top to bottom, this “Funny Girl” needed different people.
"No Rain On Beanie Feldstein’s Parade, But Expect Some Drizzle"
" Beanie Feldstein is, it turns out, a perfectly fine choice for this Funny Girl, which is not to say she’s perfect, but rather that she’s on equal footing with a just-above-average musical that has always been dominated by several excellent songs and a legendary breakout performance that lifted the show – and its plodding 1968 movie adaptation – well beyond the sum of its parts."
"The fact that this amiable young performer does battle with a most fearsome ghost and survives with her dignity and our collective sense of relief intact should not be underappreciated."
"Much has been made of Feldstein’s full-figured size and how it fits into Funny Girl‘s customary challenge to conventional standards of showgirl beauty – challenges made by both Brice and Streisand in their days – but the more important element is the necessary self-regard, confidence and knowingness that the Brice character (and her portrayer) must display. And here, Feldstein is at her best (even when the show occasionally lets her down). While she doesn’t have the vocal gifts that Streisand could employ to stake a claim on show-within-a-show stardom, Feldstein is no less convincing in her Fanny’s self-belief and determination. No one would dare rain on her parade."
"Mayer’s respectful rendering serves the text well enough and features a star turn from Beanie Feldstein but, while she’s a skilled comedian, she sometimes struggles to fill Brice’s unique shoes. "
"Harvey Fierstein has revised the musical’s book, increasing the Arnstein role and restoring some cut songs. But the show remains an uneven one. "
"Feldstein smartly avoids Streisand mimicry. With a talent for physical comedy, she is a lovable goofball whose main concern is making the audience laugh with her. Wide-eyed and imploring, her Fanny thrives on the audience’s adulation. But Feldstein can’t quite turn down her brightness when her character faces setbacks. The role also calls for a roof-raising voice and, while Feldstein hits the notes, there’s a thinness in her expression. Her character and emotions come through less when she’s singing, which is unfortunate in this song-heavy show."
"it looks and sounds merely average"
"Watching Feldstein trying to get to grips with the larger-than-life personality of the vaudeville legend Fanny Brice is a distinctly uncomfortable experience. You badly want her to carry it off, and there’s certainly no doubting her enthusiasm, but with every passing moment the casting seems more and more mystifying."
"Michael Mayer’s underpowered production has the air of a low-budget touring venture, with a slimmed-down orchestral sound to match. David Zinn’s set design — dominated by a curved brick structure which could easily be mistaken for a giant medieval outhouse — is distinctly lacking in atmosphere, and apart from a breezy mass tap dance number in the second half, when Fanny is busy raising morale during the First World War, Ellenore Scott’s choreography proves anodyne."