“Funny Girl” introduced a young Barbra Streisand to audiences on Broadway in 1964 and to a wider audience in the 1968 film. It contained moments of discovery not only of Streisand’s inimitable talents but the unforgettable score with music by Jule (“Gypsy”) Styne and lyrics by Bob (“Mambo Italiano”) Merrill and the book by Isobel Lennart (retooled for the 2023 revival by Harvey Fierstein), a rediscovery of vaudeville comedian Fanny Brice, her rise to stardom and her stormy relationship and marriage to suave gambler Nicky Arnstein.
Now, the revival of “Funny Girl,” which opened on April, 24, 2022 on Broadway and closed on Sept. 3, 2023, is on a national tour with a newcomer in the lead role.
The musical is at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, Fort Lauderdale, through Sunday, Nov. 26.
It took 60 years for the show to get a revival on Broadway. Who could even live up to the legacy — the way Streisand became synonymous with the character, her performance now the stuff of legend?
Sitting in the audience at the Au Rene Theater at the Broward Center on the first night of the tour’s stop in Fort Lauderdale on Tuesday, Nov. 14, there was a feeling you got down to your toes: That you were witnessing a star being born.
Taking on the monumental role of Fanny in “Funny Girl” in the national tour is Katerina McCrimmon, Miami born and bred, a New World School of the Arts and Florida State University grad, in a breakout role for her and she grabs onto the opportunity with gusto.
The national touring company producers finding this diamond in the rough is a treasure.
So how does she make the story fresh to those who grew up on "Funny Girl"?
McCrimmon makes the wise choice to find her own Fanny Brice — full of zaniness, Her own naivete and raw vulnerability show through as a young girl from New York’s Lower East Side trying to make it in show biz.
The actress knows how to handle the schtick with just enough zing that it doesn’t come off as pandering. And, it takes quite a range to go from goofy to confident as the character grows into “the greatest star,” which she does so seemingly effortlessly. McCrimmon makes it look easy, but it’s no simple feat.
Quite a mature choice, too, is that the actress keeps her cards close to her vest — in this case her powerhouse vocals until just the right moment. Not only does she have great comic timing, but a fantastic instinct to find a way to captivate her audience.
While there are chances in the sensitive opening song of “Who Are You Now?” and others in Act 1 where McCrimmon could have knocked our socks off, she waits until just the right "bam" and lets us have it in the first-act finale when she blows the roof off with “Don’t Rain On My Parade.”
It's part of what makes this touring production thrilling. It’s the rollercoaster ride that McCrimmon takes audiences on personally playing the biggest role of her life and professionally as the character living the biggest moments of her life.
In Act II, McCrimmon once again leaves the audience breathless as she sings a flawless “The Music That Makes Me Dance.” The film version closed with the unforgettable number, the 1920s standard, “My Man,” which has been left out. I bet McCrimmon could have put a powerful stamp on it.
The others in the cast rise to the occasion. As the "gorgeous" guy in the "ruffled shirt, " Nick Arnstein, Stephen Mark Lukas, fits the bill as the groom who is prettier than the bride. Lukas was the Broadway understudy for Arnstein in the Broadway revival.
The revival has given Arnstein more of a role than in the original, putting the couple together more with onstage duets and allowing Arnstein more stage time.
In the rewrite, the title song, “Funny Girl” belongs to Arnstein, and Lukas brings just the right mix of sadness and bravado required in the telling of Arnstein’s internal battles — the lyrics have been tweaked to show the male point of view. He leans into the suaveness of the character but when he's become broken down, Lukas makes that believable, too.
The actor inhabits Arnstein’s turmoil expressively in a new song added for the male role, “Temporary Arrangement,” a strange jazz-fueled number that could be hard to pull off. It's an odd addition that doesn't seem to fit. Meant to show Nick spiraling out of control, the piece has him surrounded by male dancers with briefcases and doing a little choreography along with them.
Lukas rises above and does the number with panache.
Izaiah Montaque Harris as Fanny’s forever pal Eddie Ryan shows off some fancy footwork in the added tap sequence “Eddie’s Tap.” Too bad the designers hadn’t raised the dance floor just a bit. Seated in the sixth row, it was hard to see Harris’ amazing talent.
It had been a convention since the opening of the revival to have a well-known name in the role, Jane Lynch and Tova Feldshuh, as Fanny's mom. Former pop star Melissa Manchester had been touring in the role of Fanny’s mother, but she fell and injured her knee just before the Fort Lauderdale run, needed surgery and is now out for the run until further notice.
In her place is Barbara Tirell who was the offstage cover for three roles in the Broadway production for Mrs. Brice, Mrs. Strakosh and Mrs. Meeker. She’s the quintessential Mrs. Brice, the saloonkeeper from Henry Street who has had her own share of hard knocks. Tirell fits the role like a glove and brings a warmth and expressiveness to the ensemble. As Mrs. Brice’s poker-playing buddies, Eileen T’Kaye and Christine Bunuan have plenty of comic appeal.
Manchester may have been brought on to the tour to fill the star power, and it is unfortunate she’s on a hiatus due to her injury, but at this point, there needn’t be a recognizable name of the marquee to draw crowds. As word-of-mouth spreads, McCrimmon will be bringing them in on her own.
Lukas, every bit of the leading man, on opening night was so gracious when presenting McCrimmon with flowers and could be seen whispering the words to her, “Welcome Home.” South Florida embraced their very own “Funny Girl” with a well-deserved standing ovation.
“Funny Girl” will be performed Tuesday, Nov. 14 through Sunday, Nov. 26 at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 SW 5th Ave, Fort Lauderdale. Tickets start at $45 are available at BrowardCenter.org, Ticketmaster.com, or by calling the box office at 954-468-0222.