curtain call

‘Who are you now?’ ‘Funny Girl’ and a Broadway revival’s identity crisis

Funny Girl
Beanie Feldstein and Ramin Karimloo in Funny Girl. Photo by Matthew Murphy

The Rundown:

After decades of false starts and rumored stars, a highly anticipated revival of Funny Girl finally arrives on Broadway. Beanie Feldstein steps into the role of comedian and stage star Fanny Price, made famous by she-who-must-not-be-named.

Joined by Jane Lynch as her mother with a perfectly timed double-take, and Ramin Karimloo, her leading man with a flashy six-pick and a voice more appropriate for that French revolution musical, this Funny Girl fails to grow up. Director Michael Mayer’s bubbly and well-intentioned attempt to make the musical resonate with 21st-century audiences lands a few punchlines, but the overall effect is as fleeting as the cast’s New York accents.

Funny Girl
Beanie Feldstein (center) and the cast of Funny Girl. Photo by Matthew Murphy

No Tea, No Shade:

Funny Girl comes from a long lineage of biopic musicals that struggle to cast their subjects in any other hue except the spotlight. And despite Feldstein’s best efforts, audiences are still left wondering why the star of stage and screen remained so enamored of Nick Arnstein (Karimloo), a known gambler. Longtime friend and choreographer Eddie Ryan (Jared Grimes) is waiting in the wings (when he’s not tearing up the stage with spectacular tap-dancing), but Brice only has eyes for Arnstein.

Packed with memorable songs by Jule Styne and Bob Merrill, such as “People,” “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” and “The Music That Makes Me Dance,” the score is a substantial lift for its leading lady. And while Feldstein’s charm and comic timing exude in the show within a show, these other moments fall flat, with little nuance or color in her voice.

“Who are you now?” sings Fannie in the musical’s opening scene, staring into a dressing room mirror as the memories of her lifetime descend upon her. Later, she asks the same of Arnstein, continuing: “Am I giving too little by my loving you too much?” He is her Achilles’ heel as well as that of the show.

There are a few welcomed distractions from Funny Girl’s central love story. With humor and pathos, Lynch nails the style of Harvey Fierstein’s revised book, and Peter Francis James as theater producer Florenz Ziegfeld makes the most of his quick entrances and exits. Grimes also shines, both effortless and electrifying in tap sequences choreographed by Ayodele Casel.

Funny Girl
Beanie Feldstein, Jared Grimes and the cast of Funny Girl. Photo by Matthew Murphy

Let’s Have a Moment:

Funny Girl attempts to play to its actors’ strengths, particularly when it comes to new vocal arrangements for Karimloo’s soaring tenor. “Temporary Arrangement,” sung by Karimloo’s Arnstein in the second act as he strikes several business deals, was cut from the original Broadway production during out-of-town tryouts. The number was reinserted for the 2015 London production (also directed by Mayer) and appears in this production, forcing Karimloo to awkwardly contort himself to execute Ellenore Scott’s choreography.

Funny Girl
Ramin Karimloo and the cast of Funny Girl. Photo by Matthew Murphy

The Last Word: 

On the Funny Girl press circuit, Feldstein has often mentioned that she went to her third birthday party dressed as Fanny Brice and that stepping into the role is a dream come true. She continues to hold onto that childlike wonder onstage, which serves part of Brice’s story but not its totality. Her Fanny never entirely matures, leaving audiences wondering how the multi-faceted star managed to stay on top despite decades of being sidelined by love.

Funny Girl plays at the August Wilson Theatre.