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On Stage: ‘Funny Girl’ in Detroit

Dateline – DETROIT
The Fisher Theatre
8 October 2023

The 2023 touring production of Funny Girl rolled into Detroit recently for a two-week engagement at the historic Fisher Theatre. This production is a road-ready version of Harvey Fierstein’s 2022 Broadway revival that shuffled and added to the 1964 original that super-charged Barbra Streisand’s career.

“Cornet Man”

The heart of this story is, of course, Fanny Brice, the celebrated comic actor and singer of the early 20th century. Streisand embodied the Fanny audiences know and love, portraying the indefatigable vaudevillian in the 1968 film adaptation, as well as the original Broadway production. Katerina McCrimmon takes on the role in this production and she is nothing short of amazing. She’s faithful to Streisand’s portrayal of Fanny, familiar to many from the ’68 film. And her voice has many similarities to Streisand; in fact, I closed my eyes at several moments and it was as if ole Babs herself was commanding the stage. Katerina McCrimmon captures the spirit of both legendary performers, Fanny and Barbra, and she has the powerful and spectacular voice required to carry this show.

Opposite her on this night, Sean Thompson stepped in for Stephen Mark Lukas as Fanny’s charming and troubled husband, Nick Arnstein. Some of Fierstein’s biggest adjustments to the original show concern the Arnstein character, and Thompson took full advantage of his opportunity to sing and dance, as Fierstein has created new numbers for the previously song-less character. Nick Arnstein’s adjusted role in the story gives the character more nuance, as this production attempts to make him more sympathetic. Thompson was quite good, but the shift in Arnstein’s character threw me a bit. I admit I missed the one-dimensional scoundrel that provided such a stark contrast to Fanny.

Nick Arnstein (Stephen Mark Lukas) woos Fanny

The stage design and costumes are evocative of the Cobble Hill section of Brooklyn in the early 20th century, where Fanny grew up on Henry Street. The simple set design artfully captures the essence of the setting, but appropriately the performers are relied upon to create the world of the progressive era in New York during World War I, and Fanny’s life in the Ziegfeld Follies. The choreography by Ellenore Scott is outstanding, featuring primarily classic dance styles true to the period. Izaiah Montaque Harris’s tap dancing as Fanny’s friend and confidant Eddie Ryan is a notable crowd-pleaser.

Izaiah Montaque Harris as Eddie Ryan

The musical score, timeless and classic, is inspiring, performed by a blend of touring and local musicians under the guidance of conductor Elaine Davidson. The music remains as captivating as ever, taking us back to the heyday of old-school New York and the Ziegfeld Follies. We cheered a couple times in the Overture when we heard bits of familiar favorite tunes like “People” and “Don’t Rain on My Parade.”

This touring production of Funny Girl is an engaging and often-inspiring revival of a cherished American classic. It didn’t matter that ’70s pop has-been Melissa Manchester didn’t perform as Fanny’s mother – Eileen T’Kaye was charming and witty as Mrs. Brice. And after all the drama generated by Beanie Feldstein’s tepid reviews and her eventual replacement by Leah Michelle in the Harvey Fierstein Broadway revival, Katerina McCrimmon was a welcome breath of fresh air. I can’t say I love the changes that Fierstein made to the original show, but this company makes it work.

There haven’t been a lot of revivals and tours of Funny Girl, so you don’t want to miss this production. You especially don’t want to miss the revelation of Katerina McCrimmon as Fanny. As of this writing, the tour is in Memphis, but it will be crisscrossing North America before it winds down in Houston in August 2024. This is the musical that will make you dance, but I still don’t get why people who need people are the luckiest people in the world. Sounds codependent to me 😉

Click here to see when Funny Girl is headed to your town.

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