Feldstein had to have the guts to put on those proverbial shoes and sing and dance in them onstage at the August Wilson Theater, where director Michael Mayer’s swanky Broadway revival, the first, had its official premiere Sunday night. (On Streisand’s 80th birthday, no less.) One admires courage, an essential attribute when playing a character whose opening number is titled “I’m the Biggest Star.” Rather than incandescent, however, Feldstein’s starring role is an earthly achievement, better when he executes the comedic side of the musical and less convincing on the musical side. A better fit was her Minnie Fay in “Hello, Dolly!” revival starring Bette Midler.
Not bad by any measure, I might add: her vocal skills are adequate. However, in a professional vehicle built as an exhilarating showcase for its main character, you’ll want to be taken for a ride that leaves you dizzy with the acceleration of songs like “People” and “Don’t Rain on My Parade.” That’s simply the expectation that “Funny Girl” generates, and it’s also simply the case that, no matter how fervently we support the endearing Feldstein, and we certainly do, that ignition never fully occurs.
So maybe, if you can look down, you’ll find Mayer’s “Funny Girl” to be a nice diversion, an entertaining throwback to the heyday of musicals with lavish sets and costumes and tunes that mom and dad (or grandma and grandpa) ) ) listened every night on the stereo. This production accomplishes that, with input from actors including Jane Lynch, a total delight as Brice’s mother (I’m coming to the conclusion that there’s nothing Lynch can’t do), and Jared Grimes as a tap-dancing genius and Incredibly faithful Brice. friend, eddie.
Speaking of impossible, Ramin Karimloo is available as Nicky Arnstein, the ship of dreams that hits Brice. In Harvey Fierstein’s new revisions of Isobel Lennart’s original book for the show, Karimloo has more to do, especially in applying his velvety baritone to songs added in a Jule Styne-Bob Merrill score, a track listing that varies significantly. from the 1968 film. Arnstein, a poker player by trade, gets his own socko solo here in the second act, the new “Temporary Arrangement”, which is presented as a number from “Guys and Dolls”, with a chorus of gangsters dancing.
The new Nicky Arnstein from ‘Funny Girl’
Yet even with the tweaks, Arnstein remains a second-tier character in a behind-the-scenes biomusical that centers on Brice’s 1920s rise to comedic beacon in Florenz Ziegfeld’s (Peter Francis James, Class of 1920) extravaganzas. radiant). The recurring jokes about the disparity in physical beauty between Arnstein and Brice have never struck me as particularly funny. “To tell you the truth, it hurt my pride, the boyfriend was prettier than the girlfriend” is clever lyrics (on Feldstein’s “Sadie, Sadie”), but the repeated emphasis on the theme robs any serious exploration of their relationship. As a result, “Funny Girl” feels as shallow as those diaphanous Ziegfeld numbers, deftly choreographed by Ellenore Scott and tap choreographer Ayodele Casel.
Dressed in increasingly luscious gowns by Susan Hilferty, Feldstein takes a journey from edgy beginner to edgier pro. David Zinn contributes clever set design, with a rounded brick central apartment building whose walls part to reveal street scenes, hotel suites and stages filled with showgirls. Comparisons are anathema, sure, but they are instructive in measuring the effect of Feldstein’s performance amidst all the theatrical refinements. Whereas, for example, you strongly believed that Streisand was a star, with Feldstein, your main belief is that She believes she’s a star. It’s a distinction with a difference, for, with this latest Fanny Brice, that powerful illusion sometimes requires more cooperative effort from the audience.
Some useful internal electricity turns on in Feldstein for the production numbers of Follies, which are his finest moments. She is an adorably winning clown in “His Love Makes Me Beautiful”, the song that Brice sabotages due to insecurity about her appearance (that song again). In Act 2’s “Rat-Tat-Tat-Tat,” a goofy Follies salute to the military, Feldstein appears in uniform, ridiculous glasses, a thick Yiddish accent, and a pair of bagels on her belt. Pointing out her nosh-able arsenal, Feldstein delivers the finisher to perfection. “Onion or poppy seed?” she asks.
Given the pedigree of the raucous “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” one of those killer anthems that reliably raises the heart rate, Feldstein has the immense task of sending the audience into intermission on a literally high note. She sings with all her heart, and if it was only her heart that was needed, she would be a Fanny Brice for eternity.
funny girl, music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Bob Merrill. Original book by Isobel Lennart; book reviewed by Harvey Fierstein. Directed by Michael Mayer. Choreography, Ellenore Scott; tap choreography, Ayodele Casel; sets, David Zinn; musical direction, Michael Rafter; costume, Susan Hilferty; lighting, Kevin Adams; sound, Brian Ronan; orchestrations, Chris Walker. With Toni DiBuono, Debra Cardona, Martin Moran. About 2 hours 50 minutes. At the August Wilson Theatre, 245 W. 52nd St., New York. funnygirlsonbroadway.com.