Funny Girl (musical)
|Basis||The life of Fanny Brice|
Funny Girl is a musical that opened on Broadway in 1964. The book was by Isobel Lennart, music by Jule Styne, and lyrics by Bob Merrill. The semi-biographical plot is based on the life and career of Broadway star, film actress and comedian Fanny Brice featuring her stormy relationship with entrepreneur and gambler Nick Arnstein. Its original title was My Man.
The musical was produced by Ray Stark, who was Brice's son-in-law via his marriage to her daughter Frances, and starred Barbra Streisand. The production was nominated for eight Tony Awards but, facing tough competition from Hello, Dolly!, it failed to win in any categories.
The original cast recording of Funny Girl was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2004.
The musical is set in and around New York City just prior to and following World War I. Ziegfeld Follies star Fanny Brice, awaiting the return of her husband, Nicky Arnstein, from prison, reflects on their life together, and their story is told as a flashback.
Fanny is a stage-struck teen who gets her first job in vaudeville. Her mother and her friend Mrs. Strakosh try to dissuade her from show business because Fanny is not the typical beauty ("If a Girl Isn't Pretty"). But Fanny perseveres ("I'm the Greatest Star") and is helped and encouraged by Eddie Ryan, a dancer she meets in the vaudeville shows. Once Fanny's career takes off, Eddie and Mrs. Brice lament that once she's on Broadway she'll forget about them ("Who Taught Her Everything?"). Fanny performs a supposedly romantic number in the Follies, but she turns it into a classic comic routine, ending the number as a pregnant bride ("His Love Makes Me Beautiful"), causing an uproar.
She meets the sophisticated and handsome Nick Arnstein, who accompanies Fanny to her mother's opening night party on "Henry Street". Fanny is clearly falling in love with Nick, while acknowledging their complex vulnerabilities ("People"). Later they meet in Baltimore and have a private dinner at a swanky restaurant and declare their feelings ("You Are Woman"). Fanny is determined to marry Nick, regardless of his gambling past ("Don't Rain on My Parade").
They do marry and move to a mansion on Long Island ("Sadie, Sadie"). In the meantime, Mrs. Strakosh and Eddie suggest to Miss Brice that she should find a man to marry, now that her daughter is supporting her ("Find Yourself a Man"). Fanny has become a major star with the Ziegfeld Follies ("Rat-Tat-Tat-Tat"). Nick asks Ziegfeld to invest in a gambling casino, but although Ziegfeld passes, Fanny insists on investing. When the venture fails and they lose their money, Fanny tries to make light of it, which propels Nick to get involved in a shady bond deal, resulting in his arrest for embezzlement. Fanny feels helpless but stronger than ever in her love for him ("The Music That Makes Me Dance").
In the present, Fanny is waiting for Nick to arrive and has time to reflect on her situation. Nick arrives, newly released from prison, and he and Fanny decide to separate. She is heartbroken, but resolves to pick up her life again ("Don't Rain on My Parade, Reprise").
Ray Stark had commissioned an authorized biography of Brice, based on taped recollections she had dictated, but was unhappy with the result. It eventually cost him $50,000 to stop publication of The Fabulous Fanny, as it had been titled by the author. Stark then turned to Ben Hecht to write the screenplay for a biopic, but neither Hecht nor the ten writers who succeeded him were able to produce a version that satisfied Stark. Finally, Isobel Lennart submitted My Man, which pleased both Stark and Columbia Pictures executives, who offered Stark $400,000 plus a percentage of the gross for the property.
After reading the screenplay, Mary Martin contacted Stark and proposed it be adapted for a stage musical. Stark discussed the possibility with producer David Merrick, who suggested Jule Styne and Stephen Sondheim compose the score. Sondheim told Styne, "I don't want to do the life of Fanny Brice with Mary Martin. She's not Jewish. You need someone ethnic for the part." Shortly after, Martin lost interest in the project and backed out.
Merrick discussed the project with Jerome Robbins, who gave the screenplay to Anne Bancroft. She agreed to play Brice if she could handle the score. Merrick suggested Styne collaborate with Dorothy Fields, but the composer was not interested. He went to Palm Beach, Florida, for a month and composed music he thought Bancroft would be able to sing. While he was there, he met Bob Merrill, and he played the five melodies he already had written for him. Merrill agreed to write lyrics for them; these included "Who Are You Now?" and "The Music That Makes Me Dance." Styne was happy with the results and the two men completed the rest of the score, then flew to Los Angeles to play it for Stark, Robbins, and Bancroft, who was at odds with Merrill because of an earlier personal conflict. She listened to the score, then stated, "I want no part of this. It's not for me."
With Bancroft out of the picture, Eydie Gormé was considered, but she agreed to play Brice only if her husband Steve Lawrence was cast as Nick Arnstein. Since they thought he was wrong for the role, Stark and Robbins approached Carol Burnett, who said, "I'd love to do it but what you need is a Jewish girl." With options running out, Styne thought Barbra Streisand, whom he remembered from I Can Get It for You Wholesale, would be perfect. She was performing at the Bon Soir in Greenwich Village and Styne urged Robbins to see her. He was impressed and asked her to audition. Styne later recalled, "She looked awful ... All her clothes were out of thrift shops. I saw Fran Stark staring at her, obvious distaste on her face." Despite his wife's objections, Stark hired Streisand on the spot.
Robbins had an argument with Lennart and told Stark he wanted her replaced because he thought she was not capable of adapting her screenplay into a viable book for a stage musical. Stark refused and Robbins quit the project.
Funny Girl temporarily was shelved, and Styne moved on to other projects, including Fade Out – Fade In for Carol Burnett. Then Merrick signed Bob Fosse to direct Funny Girl, and work began on it again, until Fosse quit and the show went into limbo for several months. Then Merrick suggested Stark hire Garson Kanin. It was Merrick's last contribution to the production; shortly afterward he bowed out, and Stark became sole producer.
Streisand was not enthusiastic about Kanin as a director and insisted she wanted Robbins back, especially after Kanin suggested "People" be cut from the score because it didn't fit the character. Streisand already had recorded the song for a single release, and Merrill insisted, "It has to be in the show because it's the greatest thing she's ever done." Kanin agreed to let it remain based on audience reaction to it. By the time the show opened in Boston, people were so familiar with "People" they applauded it during the overture.
There were problems with the script and score throughout rehearsals, and when Funny Girl opened at the Shubert Theatre in Boston it was too long, even though thirty minutes already had been cut. The critics praised Streisand but disliked the show. Lennart continued to edit her book and deleted another thirty minutes before the show moved to Philadelphia, where critics thought the show could be a hit if the libretto problems were rectified.
The New York opening was postponed five times while extra weeks were played out of town. Funny Girl ended up playing two tryout periods in Philadelphia, at the Forrest and Erlanger theaters. Five songs were cut, and "You Are Woman", a solo for Sydney Chaplin, was rewritten as a counterpoint duet. Streisand was still unhappy with Kanin and was pleased when Robbins returned to oversee the choreography by Carol Haney.
Kanin's novel Smash is based loosely on his experience directing Funny Girl.
Original Broadway cast - Winter Garden Theatre (1964)
- Barbra Streisand as Fanny Brice
- Sydney Chaplin as Nicky Arnstein
- Roger DeKoven as Florenz Ziegfeld Jr.
- Joseph Macauley as Tom Keeney
- Kay Medford as Mrs. Brice
- Danny Meehan as Eddie Ryan
- Jean Stapleton as Mrs. Strakosh
- John Lankston as Adolph and the Ziegfeld Tenor
- Lainie Kazan as Vera - Showgirl
After seventeen previews, the Broadway production opened on March 26, 1964, at the Winter Garden Theatre, subsequently transferring to the Majestic Theatre and The Broadway Theatre, where it closed on July 1, 1967, to complete its total run of 1,348 performances. The musical was directed by Garson Kanin and choreographed by Carol Haney under the supervision of Jerome Robbins. In addition to Streisand and Chaplin, the original cast included Kay Medford, Danny Meehan, Jean Stapleton, and Lainie Kazan, who also served as Streisand's understudy. Later in the run, Streisand and Chaplin were replaced by Mimi Hines and Johnny Desmond, and Hines' husband and comedy partner Phil Ford also joined the cast.
Streisand reprised her role in the West End production at the Prince of Wales Theatre directed by Lawrence Kasha, which opened on 13 April 1966. When Streisand became pregnant and had to drop out of the show, her understudy, Lisa Shane, wife of The Italian Job director Peter Collinson, took over, and continued to perform until the show closed.
The Australasian premiere season commenced March 4, 1966, at the Her Majesty's Theatre, Sydney. The production starred Jill Perryman as Fanny Brice, Bruce Barry as Nicky Arnstein, Evie Hayes as Mrs. Brice, and Bill Yule as Eddie Ryan.
In 1999, The Production Company produced Funny Girl at the Arts Centre Melbourne, starring Caroline O'Connor and Nancye Hayes. The production was revived in 2016, with O'Connor and Hayes reprising their roles.
A concert version was staged at the Sydney Opera House from July 12–14, 2018. The role of Fanny Brice on stage was shared by: Michala Banas, Natalie Bassingthwaighte, Casey Donovan, Virginia Gay, Verity Hunt-Ballard, Dami Im, Maggie McKenna, Zahra Newman, Caroline O’Connor, Queenie van de Zandt and Megan Washington. The show also starred Trevor Ashley, Nancye Hayes and Don Hany as Nick Arnstein.
North American Tours
A 1996 United States National tour starred Debbie Gibson as Fanny Brice and Robert Westenberg as Nicky Arnstein. The planned 30-city tour started in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in October 1996, but ended prematurely in November 1996 in Green Bay, Wisconsin.
West End Revival
A new London production opened at the Menier Chocolate Factory on November 20, 2015, in previews, officially on December 2, for a limited run to March 5, 2016; making it the show's first full-scale revival ever. The production stars Sheridan Smith and Darius Campbell as Nick, with direction by Michael Mayer, and a revised book by Harvey Fierstein. The entire run sold out within a day, making it the Menier's fastest selling show on record. Following this, the show transferred to London's Savoy Theatre on April 9, 2016, for a run through to September 10, 2016. The show subsequently extended until October 8 due to phenomenal public demand. However, Smith became indisposed on April 28, 2016, and the show was halted 15 minutes in. She was replaced by her understudy, Natasha J Barnes, who continued to play the role until Smith's eventual return on July 8.
A UK tour of the Menier production began in February 2017, at the Palace Theatre, Manchester. After very favourable reviews, both Smith and Barnes returned to the role of Fanny Brice and alternative venues throughout the UK tour.
A revival production is set to open on Broadway on March 26, 2022 at the August Wilson Theatre, starring Beanie Feldstein as Fanny Brice and directed by Michael Mayer. The production will also star Ramin Karimloo as Nicky Arnstein and Jane Lynch as Mrs. Brice.
A Paris production opened in November 2019 at Théâtre Marigny, directed and choreographed by Stephen Mear and featuring Christina Bianco as Fanny. The show received unanimous rave reviews, with significant praise for Bianco. The production was extended, doubling its initial run dates.
On September 23, 2002, a concert version for the benefit of the Actors' Fund was staged in New York City at the New Amsterdam Theatre. Performers included Carolee Carmello, Kristin Chenoweth, Sutton Foster, Ana Gasteyer, Whoopi Goldberg, Jane Krakowski, Judy Kuhn, Julia Murney, LaChanze, Ricki Lake, Andrea Martin, Idina Menzel, Bebe Neuwirth, Kaye Ballard, Alice Playten, Lillias White, Len Cariou, Peter Gallagher, Gary Beach, and The Rockettes.
In regional theatre the Paper Mill Playhouse, Millburn, New Jersey production ran in April to May 2001 with Leslie Kritzer and Robert Cuccioli. The New York Times reviewer noted: "What makes it all the more impressive is that few actors, or theater companies outside of summer stock, dare to attempt Jule Styne's and Bob Merrill's grand spectacle that propelled Barbra Streisand's career nearly 40 years ago." The Westchester Broadway Theatre production ran from March to June 2009, with Jill Abramovitz as Fanny. The Drury Lane Oakbrook, Oakbrook Terrace, Illinois production ran from December 2009 to March 7, 2010. Gary Griffin was the co-director with Drury Lane artistic director William Osetek, with the cast that featured Sara Sheperd.
A revival directed by Bartlett Sher had been announced to premiere at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles in January 2012 with Lauren Ambrose starring as Fanny Brice and Bobby Cannavale as Nicky Arnstein, and then open on Broadway in April 2012. However, on November 3, 2011, producer Bob Boyett announced that this production has been postponed. He said "We have made the extremely difficult decision today to postpone our production of Funny Girl. Given the current economic climate, many Broadway producing investors have found it impossible to maintain their standard level of financial commitment."
The first lavish Israeli production of the musical premiered in 2016, 52 years after the original Broadway premiere. There was a controversy about the casting for the role of Fanny Brice. The role was promised for actress Tali Oren, who is a freelanced actress, but then the role was offered to Mia Dagan who is signed with Beit Lessin Theatre. Dagan, who jumped on the opportunity in the first minute, took the role and signed off the contract with Beit Lessin. The production also included Amos Tamam as Nicky Arnstein.
Streisand's label, Columbia Records, declined to produce the cast album, so Capitol Records released it. It peaked at #2 on the Billboard 200 and achieved gold record status. The recording was issued on CD in 1987 on Capitol and then in 1992 on EMI's Broadway Angel label. The album received a commemorative 50th Anniversary edition which was released on April 29, 2014. The box set includes an LP of the cast album as well as a remastered CD and a 48-page soft-cover collector's book full of photographs of the original Broadway production.
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In its review of the original Broadway production, the New York Times praised Streisand's performance and the parts of the show focused on Brice's career, but criticized the "sentimentality" of the romance between Brice and Arnstein.
Awards and nominations
Original Broadway production
|1964||Tony Award||Best Musical||Nominated|
|Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical||Sydney Chaplin||Nominated|
|Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical||Barbra Streisand||Nominated|
|Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical||Danny Meehan||Nominated|
|Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical||Kay Medford||Nominated|
|Best Choreography||Carol Haney||Nominated|
|Best Composer and Lyricist||Jule Styne and Bob Merrill||Nominated|
|Best Producer of a Musical||Ray Stark||Nominated|
2016 West End Production
|2016||Evening Standard Theatre Award||Best Musical Performance||Sheridan Smith||Nominated|
|2017||Whatsonstage.com Awards||Best Musical Revival||Won|
|Best Actress in a Musical||Sheridan Smith||Nominated|
|Best Supporting Actor in a Musical||Joel Montague||Nominated|
|Best Direction||Michael Mayer||Nominated|
|Best Costume Design||Matthew Wright||Nominated|
|Laurence Olivier Award||Best Musical Revival||Nominated|
|Best Actress in a Musical||Sheridan Smith||Nominated|
The 1968 namesake screen adaptation, directed by William Wyler, paired Streisand with Omar Sharif in the role of Arnstein. Medford repeated her stage role, and Walter Pidgeon was cast as Flo Ziegfeld. The film won Streisand the Academy Award for Best Actress, an honor she shared with Katharine Hepburn for The Lion in Winter, as well as the Golden Globe. The film, which was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture and several other awards, was the top-grossing film of 1968.
Diana Ross & the Supremes released a studio album titled Diana Ross & the Supremes Sing and Perform "Funny Girl" on the Motown label, released in 1968. It is a cover album of songs from Funny Girl. Motown had Ross and the Supremes cover the Funny Girl songs (several of which were to appear on their shelved 1965 album There's a Place for Us) to tie in with the September release of the feature-film version of the musical.
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