In the forty-nine years since Funny Girl debuted on Broadway, this musical biography of Fanny Brice has pretty much faded into obscurity despite its eight Tony nominations, and if regional revivals have been few and far between, blame that on a leading role that’s a bear to cast, a book that’s been aptly dubbed problematic, and absolutely no Funny Girl sets or costumes available for rent.

3-D Theatricals solves two of these three problems in its sensational from-the-ground-up revival, and though Isobel Lennart’s book remains more than a bit of a hodgepodge, Nicole Parker’s absolutely stellar lead performance, Michael Matthews’ inspired direction, and brand new Broadway-caliber sets and costumes by Stephen Gifford and Cheryl Sheldon make this revival another 3-D-T winner.

IMG_4166 1964’s Funny Girl, as any true musical theater aficionado will tell you, centers on comedienne Brice’s rise to national stardom and on her rocky relationship with entrepreneur/gambler Nicky Arnstein.

IMG_5195 Despite admonitions from family and friends against a career in show business (“If a girl isn’t pretty like a Miss Atlantic City, all she gets in life is pity and a pat”), young Fanny truly believes that “I’m The Greatest Star,” and goes on to prove it in production numbers like “Cornet Man,” “His Love Makes Me Beautiful,” and “Rat-Tat-Tat-Tat,” ending up a headliner in the world famous Ziegfeld Follies.

Accompanying her on her road to stardom is the tall, dark, and handsome Mr. Arnstein (“I Want To Be Seen With You Tonight”), who finds in Funny Fanny an attraction that simply cannot be denied (“You Are Woman, I Am Man”). Still, as any country singer will tell you, falling in love with a gambler is risky business, and though it doesn’t bode well for a happily-ever-after ending, it does give Funny Girl one of the greatest torch songs ever in a Broadway musical (“The Music That Makes Me Dance”)—all of these now standards featuring music by Jule Styne and lyrics by Bob Merrill

IMG_4417 Lennart’s book still ends up spending too much time on its peripheral characters (the movie adaptation savvily cut “Who Taught Her Everything” and “Find Yourself A Man,” i.e. virtually every song not sung by Streisand), but when the focus is on Fanny, the musical hits one high note after another, and even its Mama Rose Brice scenes now effervesce under Matthews’ assured hand.

As for Funny Girl’s ending, which has Brice making three or four emotional about-faces in the space of five-or-so minutes, well it’s easy enough to set aside strained credibility when the Fanny who’s gone from hopeful to devastated to resigned to upbeat in record time is Nicole Parker, whose all-around phenomenal performance may have you wondering, “Barbra who?”

IMG_5460 Six seasons on MADTV and a much YouTubed run as Elphaba in Broadway’s Wicked make Parker a couldn’t-be-better choice to play Fanny—a comedienne who can sing, dance, and act every bit as spectacularly as she can make you laugh. Whether belting out “I’m The Greatest Star,” eliciting delighted chuckles in “His Love Makes Me Beautiful,” or bringing tears to the eyes with “People,” “Who Are You Now,” and “The Music That Makes Me Dance,” Parker’s vocals are so memorable, they’ll have you wishing for an Original Fullerton Cast CD to help the memory linger on. Comedically, Parker is a whiz as well—absolutely hilarious as an initially inept dance pupil, as a very pregnant Ziegfeld Follies bride, and as a Borsht Belt Private Schvartz From Rocka-vay. Trust me—if Parker’s performance were on Broadway (as it well could be), she’d be a shoo-in for a Tony award or at the very least a nomination.

IMG_4515 Josh Adamson’s handsome Nick Arnstein is so suave and sophisticated, it’s no wonder Fanny falls for the gambler and his apparently affected English accent, and Adamson duets “I Want To Be Seen With You” and “You Are Woman” with the best of them.

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As for the Mrs. Brice “B-plot,” it sparkles more than it has any right to with a winning Jean Kauffman as Fanny’s mom, the delightful trio of Helen Geller (Mrs. Strakosh), Carol Kline (Mrs. Meeker), and Jill Van Velzer (Mrs. O’Malley) as her poker partners, and triple-threat extraordinaire Venny Carranza’s pizzazzy Eddie Ryan not only lending a sympathetic ear to mother and daughter, but leading choreographer Kami Seymour’s crackerjack troupe of dancers.

IMG_4474 The always excellent Gregory North makes for a suitably puffed-up yet sympathetic Florenz Ziegfeld, Jr., while cameo roles are niftily filled by Erik McEwen (Ziegfeld Tenor), Nathan Mohebbi (baby-faced agent Mr. Rinaldi), Micaela Martinez (Emma), Christopher Roque (John, Stage Manager), and Jamie Snyder (Tom Keeney).

Choreographer Seymour assigns her ensemble a whole bunch of exciting, Fosse-esque dance steps, A Chorus Line kicks, and Rat-A-Tat taps, executed to perfection by Jules Chavarria, Ryan Chlanda, Carrie Hacker (Cathy), Nicole Manly (Mimsy), Sarah Meals, Leslie Miller (Maude), Mohebbi, Ramone Owens, Dylan Pass, Robert Ramirez, Laura Rensing, Amber-Sky Skipps, Allyson Spiegelman (Jenny), Matthew Thurmond, and Tory Trowbridge (Bubbles).

IMG_3894 Matthews’ direction and scenic designer Gifford’s ingenious sets keep us reminded that it’s down Fanny’s memory lane that we’re strolling as the Broadway star sits reminiscing in her theater dressing room. Sheldon’s period costumes and Jean-Yves Tessier’s lighting are as spectacular as they get, while sound designer Julie Ferrin once again insures a crisp clear mix of vocals and instruments under the expert musical direction of Gerald Sternbach, who conducts the production’s Grade-A pit orchestra. Kudos go too to prop designers Gretchen Morales & Melanie Cavaness and to wig designers Cliff & Kat Senior (doing some of their best work). Carranza is dance captain and “rifle choreographer.”

Jene Roach is technical director, Lisa Palmire production stage manager, and Teresa Hanrahan assistant stage manager. Musicians are provided by the Los Angeles Musicians Collective. Daniel Dawson is producer, and Gretchen Dawson and Jeanette Dawson are co-producers.  T.J. Dawson is Executive Producer/Artistic Director.

This has been a season of risks from 3-D Theatricals, all of which have been surmounted with flying colors. The Broadway flop 9 To 5 became a 3-D smash. A tragic denouement did not spoil the many wonders of an awe-inspiring Parade. Shrek The Musical proved that a Disney-esque musical could be as much of an adult treat as it is for the kiddies. And now Funny Girl makes it abundantly clear that even a “problem” show can become musical theater magic with Nicole Parker and Michael Matthews at the helm.

Plummer Auditorium, 210 E. Chapman Ave., Fullerton.

–Steven Stanley
September 7, 2013
Photos: Isaac James Creative

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