The musical that made Barbra Streisand a Broadway superstar is back, and if 1964’s Funny Girl doesn’t hold up nearly as well as its mid-‘60s competitors Hello, Dolly!, Fiddler On The Roof, and Man Of La Mancha, its latest Southland revival proves an enjoyable season opener for Inland Valley Repertory Theatre.
Funny Girl may have scored (and lost) eight Tony nominations, but Isobel Lennart’s book, one that centers on comedienne Fanny Brice’s rise to national stardom and on her rocky relationship with entrepreneur/gambler, Nicky Arnstein remains more than a bit of a hodgepodge.
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.
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), and ends with Brice making an improbable three or four emotional about-faces in the space of five-or-so minutes.
Fortunately for musical theater aficionados, there are all those great Styne-Merrill songs, and under Frank Minano’s able direction, IVRT’s Fanny (Amanda Minano) is a funny girl indeed as a comically inept dance pupil, as a very pregnant Ziegfeld Follies bride, and as a Borsht Belt Private Schvartz From Rocka-vay, her Brooklyn accent adding to the UCI grad’s charm, and her Nicky (Lucas Coleman) is a tall (very tall) and handsome charmer, making it easy to believe in Fanny’s not-so-wise romantic attachment to the inveterate gambler.
Bobby Collins gives the evening’s best supporting performance as Fanny’s longtime buddy Eddie Ryan, showing off terrific dance skills (as does Minano) to Ray Limon’s taptastic choreography in “Rat-Tat-Tat-Tat.”
Candace Elder is a feisty Mrs. Brice, getting amusing poker-buddy support from Cindi East (Mrs. Strakosh), Pamela Lambert (Mrs. Meeker), Ann Thomas (Mrs. O’Malley), and Debi Madden (Mrs. Nadler), and Benjamin Perez makes for a suitably imperious Florenz Ziegfeld, with Ziegfeld Tenor Jordan Killion singing gorgeously.
Additional supporting roles are capably filled by Mike Detrow (Tom Keeney), DawnEllen Ferry (Emma), Shaun Fesler (Mr. Renaldi/Director)Jackie Maroney (Jenny), Mark McKenzie (Heckie), Rob Meyer (John, The Stage Manager), and Cindy Smith (Bubble).
Providing topnotch dance support are Showgirls Nicole Bravo, Lindsey Denham, Jennifer Rubino Detrow, Chanel Kaufman, Kristina Leopold, and Tiffany Schwanz and male dancers Jordan Arana, Josiah Dominquez, Ryan Schultze, and Gary Roberts. Henry Street Kids Brooklyn Vizcarra, Ben Lightfoot, and Paige Ouelette are perky young talents.
Once again IVRT’s midweek productions on the Candlelight Theatre stage are distinguished by the talents of musical director Ronda Rubio and an honest-to-goodness live orchestra.
The preexisting set for Candlelight’s concurrently running Guys And Dolls adapts easily to provide a colorful if garish New York backdrop (Mackenzie is set modifier) and is lit with professional flair by Daniel Moorfield and dressed by properties designer Smith. Sound designer Nick Galvan mixes amped vocals and live instrumentals almost without a hitch.
Less successful are the production’s colorful but historically inaccurate costumes (provided by The Theatre Company) which have almost everyone dressed throughout the evening as if for the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair rather than for Funny Girl’s 1910 to early 1920s time frame, akin to outfitting the Depression Era 1930s in the Roaring Twenties. (The less said about the 1960s shifts and hula-hooopy trimmings worn by the Ziegfeld Girls in “His Love Makes Me Beautiful,” the better.) Wigs are by Kenneth Martinez.
Hope Kaufman is assistant director. Kyle Buenaseda is stage manager. Collins and Ferry are dance captains, Victoria Ferry and Katherine Minano are spotlight operators, and Cat Fernandez is dresser.
Despite source material not nearly as strong as IVRT’s recent Company, Grease, and Gypsy, Funny Girl provides a welcome midweek alternative to stay-at-home entertainment choices like Netfix and Hulu.
Candlelight Pavilion, 455 W. Foothill Blvd., Claremont.
February 16, 2016
Photos: DawnEllen Ferry