By: Paulanne Simmons
April 29, 2022: It’s taken more than half a century for Funny Girl to come back to Broadway. So one really wants to love the revival. There’s even a revised script by Harvey Fierstein, who eliminated a few dozen pages from Isobel Lennart’s original script, added two songs and cut two others. But the producers would have been better off spending more time casting the lead.
The problem is not merely that Beanie Feldstein can’t live up to Streisand. Nobody can. It’s that she can’t live up to the role. Feldstein, who was born and raised in Los Angeles, clearly has little idea what a New York Jew sounds like, something Streisand nailed naturally because that’s exactly what she was. Feldstein’s accent and tone are uneven, and when she gets it right, it only becomes more obvious how often she gets it wrong. What’s more, while Streisand was awkward but sexy, Feldstein is just awkward.
Ramin Karimloo tries very hard as Fanny’s dashing and crooked husband, Nick Arnstein, but even with his great looks and fine voice, when he takes Feldstein into his arms and kisses her, he might as well be romancing a brick wall. Or maybe his baby sister. Feldstein is cuddly and sincere. When she’s upset, you want to give her a lollipop.
Jule Styne and Robert Merrill wrote one of Broadway’s most iconic scores for Funny Girl, but Feldstein does not have the voice for the belters or the emotion for the ballads. We feel sympathy for her struggles with the music, not for Fanny’s struggles with life.
Then there’s Jane Lynch. She plays Fanny’s mother, a nice lady who spends lots of time playing cards with her lady friends. There have been so many plays, films and television shows about Jewish mothers it’s hard to imagine how Lynch could have gotten it so wrong. Mrs. Brice does seem to be a native New Yorker. But it’s hard to understand how Fanny got an Irish mother. Lynch is funny and sympathetic, but whoever decided she could be a hoofer did her no favors.
One of the brightest spots in this revival is Jared Grimes, who plays Eddie Ryan, the dancer who first tells Fanny “If a Girl Isn’t Pretty” she can still go far. He can sing, act, and dance up a storm. In fact, his dance numbers are the highlight of the show. But it’s odd that in a show about Jews the standout should be the one character who does not play a Jew.
The ensemble scenes with Fanny onstage with the Ziegfeld girls are also fun and entertaining. But they would have been a lot funnier if Fanny were a graceful woman trying to act dumpy and klutzy, rather than a klutzy girl being herself.
Funny Girl does not have the strongest of books. The show starts when Fannie and Nick’s relationship is over. The pleasure must come in watching what happens, not wondering what will happen. But it’s hard to be engaged with the characters when they don’t seem engaged with each other. And when the show comes full circle, the last scene seems superfluous and overly long because we never really believed in the couple’s relationship in the first place.
Hopefully we will not have to wait another half century to see a revival of Funny Girl worthy of the musical.
Funny Girl ***
August Wilson Theatre
245 W 52nd Street
Tickets and information: funnygirlonbroadway.com
Opened April 24, 2022
Photography: Mathew Murphy