Review: Katerina McCrimmon makes ‘Funny Girl’s’ Fanny Brice her own


There’s a new Fanny Brice in town, and the question on everyone’s mind is can she live up to the role immortalized by Barbra Streisand?

The best thing about Katerina McCrimmon’s dazzling performance is that she makes the character her own. What else could she do? This touring production of the 2022 Broadway revival, directed by Michael Mayer, has its own history to contend with.

A miscast Beanie Feldstein launched the Broadway return of “Funny Girl,” and even those of us predisposed to love her couldn’t help leaving the show shaking our heads in bafflement. Rescue eventually came in the nuclear package of Lea Michele, who seized the part of Fanny Brice as though it had been unfairly denied her ever since she had been singing songs from the show on “Glee.” It was a perfect confluence of talent, type and tenacity, and Michele delivered one of the most sensational Broadway performances of the 21st century — a replacement who more than atoned for the revival’s original sin of not casting her in the first place.

Jackson Grove, Katerina McCrimmon and Rodney Thompson in the national touring company of "Funny Girl."

Jackson Grove, Katerina McCrimmon and Rodney Thompson in the national tour of “Funny Girl.”

(Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade)

No one could expect lightning to strike in exactly the same way. This touring production, which opened at the Ahmanson Theatre on Wednesday, wisely opts to go in a completely different direction.

McCrimmon is a powerhouse singer, don’t get me wrong. She brings the house down in Fanny’s poleaxing first-act numbers, “I’m the Greatest Star,” “People” and “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” from the golden age score by Jule Styne and Bob Merrill. (Despite some ill-calibrated acoustics, the overture alone seemed to have a euphoric effect on Ahmanson patrons with long memories.)

But the distinguishing feature of McCrimmon’s performance is that it brings us closer to the real Fanny Brice, the vaudeville comedian who struck it big in the Ziegfeld Follies. Streisand and Michele were swathed in preternatural glamour. Fanny is made to feel like chopped liver in the looks department, but the star radiance of these performers couldn’t help poking through the character’s humble beginnings.

McCrimmon’s Fanny, by contrast, has the hectic air of a jobbing performer, a scrapper more than a sure thing, one who learned to talk as fast as humanly possible before the door slams in her face. What sets her apart is the authenticity of her humor. She knows how ludicrous she appears on stage in a lineup of leggy girls. But it’s her wisecracks — with their racy, self-deprecating wildness — that allow her to shine on her own terms.

The national touring company production of "Funny Girl."

The national touring company production of “Funny Girl.”

(Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade)

The emphasis on “Funny Girl” tends to be on nailing the vintage New York Jewish milieu. Harvey Fierstein’s revision of Isobel Lennart’s book relocates Fanny’s origins to Brooklyn from the Lower East Side, but it’s all the same world. Melissa Manchester, a game trouper, brings her flamboyant Bronx pedigree to the role of Mrs. Brice. (It’s clear where Fanny has gotten her “oy vey” and “fakakta” exhalations from.) Projections of tenements give David Zinn’s fleet scenic design that old-timey Big Apple flavor.

But it’s the seamlessness between Fanny’s professional and personal life that McCrimmon captures to perfection. Consistency of character might not seem like such a spectacular theatrical virtue, but it’s what makes this Fanny not just unique but historically credible. McCrimmon’s portrayal resists the Broadway myth to find mortal radiance instead.

Feldstein, to her credit, was a more adept physical comedian. Fanny’s vaudeville turns lack the pop they had on Broadway. The vigor and vibrancy have faded on the road, but the backstage business is just right.

Izaiah Montaque Harris in the national tour of "Funny Girl."

Izaiah Montaque Harris in the national tour of “Funny Girl.”

(Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade)

Smitten yet too sensitive to insist, Eddie Ryan (Izaiah Montaque Harris, tap dancing his way into our affections) takes Fanny under his wing, becoming her dance captain and lovelorn confidant. Florenz Ziegfeld (Walter Coppage) is accustomed to ruling his Follies with an iron fist but he comes to recognize that strong-willed Fanny is a jackpot worth indulging. The other dancers can’t help getting a kick out of the kook who’s boosting box office for everyone.

When McCrimmon’s Fanny is wooed by the elegant, smooth-talking, alluringly shady Nick Arnstein (Stephen Mark Lukas), she never loses Fanny Brice’s protective comic armor. No, the romance between this Fanny and Nick isn’t as sultry as it was when Michele’s Fanny and Ramin Karimloo’s Nick melted into each other at the August Wilson Theatre in New York. But what Lukas’ Nick sees in McCrimmon’s Fanny — a bright, lovable, hilariously original woman — redounds to his credit.

Katerina McCrimmon and Stephen Mark Lukas in the national tour of "Funny Girl."

Katerina McCrimmon and Stephen Mark Lukas in the national tour of “Funny Girl.”

(Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade)

Lukas’ portrayal deepens as the marriage between Nick and Fanny disintegrates. He can’t stand the idea of living in her shadow — which is no surprise from the guy who puts the moves on her while singing “You Are Woman, I Am Man.” But this Nick is ultimately as sympathetic as the show’s heroine — and just as much of a casualty of a world in which success costs everything you cherish most outside of your own survival.

The ending of “Funny Girl” this time around brought to mind the final moments of Bertolt Brecht’s “Mother Courage and Her Children,” when the protagonist picks up her wagon in the face of all her losses and heads back into battle to sell her wares. Fanny is a more endearing figure of indomitable endurance but no less determined.

Show business won’t stave off her loneliness — she can’t take the adoring audience home with her, as she wistfully muses — but it’s how she presses on. The spotlight is where she thrives. As Fanny acknowledges in “The Music That Makes Me Dance,” she’s “better on stage than at intermission.” And McCrimmon, whose voice grows more majestic and multi-hued as the musical’s emotion ramps up, delivers this aching anthem with heartrending virtuosity.

The national touring company production of "Funny Girl."

The national touring company production of “Funny Girl.”

(Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade)

This revival of “Funny Girl” revives the glory of musicals past, when songs seemed to spring out of their characters’ souls. Understanding that “people who need people are the luckiest people of all,” Fanny generously gives herself and theatergoers what we both have been desperately longing for.

‘Funny Girl’

Where: Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., L.A.

When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sundays. Ends April 28

Tickets: Start at $40

Contact: or (213) 628-2772

Running time: 2 hours, 35 minutes


Source link

Scroll to Top