By Kimberly Rau
The national tour of the revival of “Funny Girl” kicked off in Providence this week, and while you may read this after the show has left Rhode Island, just know that if you have the chance to see it anywhere else along the way, you should.
Fanny Brice is an aspiring star who longs to be in the Ziegfeld Follies. Except, she’s not exactly chorus girl beautiful, a fact her closest family and friends feel comfortable reinforcing. Also, she can’t exactly dance. Oh, and she’s not really ingénue material, either. But what she has got is incredible presence, strong comedic timing, and a voice that could wake the dead and make them glad about it…and all it takes is getting in front of the right people to launch her path to stardom.
Along the way she meets the dashing, if somewhat shady, Nick Arnstein, and decides the only way she could be happier is if she hitches her wagon to his star. He lets her, and it turns out his star is more tinfoil than supernova, but her plucky spirit and resolve to take chances never wavers, bringing her out on top no matter what.
“Funny Girl” is classic Broadway, full of big, fabulous musical numbers, lots of tap dancing and great costumes. It’s also a bit dated: The overarching theme of the second act is how Fanny is actually to blame for her husband’s misdeeds, as she’s stifling him by underwriting his gambling habit and not allowing him to pretend he’s the breadwinner. You get the sense there was a time when people were possibly inclined to view Nick as a sympathetic character instead of an emotionally stunted, sexist child, or at least, that’s what all the solos featuring him lamenting the matter would imply. Alas, time marches on, and in the end, it’s still Fanny’s show.
And since it’s Fanny’s show, the person who plays her has to be just as incredible as the character. This tour’s struck gold with the incomparable Katerina McCrimmon. Her voice is one of the best I’ve heard in 10 years of reviewing theater, and she has enough talent and chutzpah for at least three actors.
Not that McCrimmon needs to pull anyone else’s weight in this show, because the rest of the cast is stellar. Nick might be a real cad, but Stephen Mark Lucas in the role is a gem, as well as a pleasure to watch and listen to. Izaiah Montaque Harris plays longtime friend Eddie, the tap dancing marvel who worked at the first house that took a chance on Fanny. And Harris is, indeed, a marvelous dancer and great in the role.
Grammy winning singer/songwriter Melissa Manchester plays Fanny’s mother, Mrs. Brice, celebrating 50 years in the entertainment industry by hitting the road with this tour. Manchester is an excellent choice to play against McCrimmon. She also hits all the right notes in scenes with Mrs. Brice’s two neighborhood friends, Mrs. Strakosh and Mrs. Meeker, played by Eileen T’Kaye and Christine Bunuan, respectively. You can’t go wrong no matter where you place your focus, and that’s a good thing, indeed. The ensemble is energetic and engaging, the music is uplifting and fun, and you can’t beat the classic sets.
The tour is directed by Michael Mayer, with choreography by Ellenore Scott and Ayodele Casel, and music supervision by Michael Rafter. And while the Broadway show did not have a particularly long run, closing in early September, if the tour continues to be this good, it may mean another generation will come to love the optimistic, funny, lovely Fanny Brice.
And that’s a beautiful thing. “Funny Girl” runs through Sept. 16, 2023, at the Providence Performing Arts Center, 220 Weybosset St., Providence. Tickets may be obtained at the box office, online at ppacri.org or by calling 401.421.2787.