By Lucy Komisar
When you first see Fanny Brice (Beanie Feldstein) she is shown in a very covered up outfit, looks matronly, and she is of heavy middle age. Later it’s clear in a flashback that the story begins with her as a young girl – and that she was always fat.
That blocked me from believing her portrayal of the story of Fanny Brice – who had been a lithe dancer as well as comedienne – and the romantic connection with her lover, the gambler Nick Arnstein (Ramin Karmiloo), a suave charming David Niven type who had squired gorgeous long-legged chorus girls.
At one point she says, “You think beautiful girls are going to stay in style forever?” On the stage playing real life thin stars? Absolutely. This challenges the story of the play. Was Nick smitten by Fanny or maybe after her money?
Yes, Feldstein’s powerful mellifluous voice fills the theater. With expensive dressing, she doesn’t look bad, though some of the costumes are ridiculously overdone, maybe on purpose.
A clever number for this show: “You are the beautiful reflection of his love’s affection,” she is the bride and, to cover up she is fat, she comically stuffs her dress to looks pregnant. But, alongside, there are the gorgeous Ziegfield girls in white glitter and long legs. Remember, Fanny was a dancer.
Feldstein is best when she sings. She is elegant at “People” who need people and “You Are Woman, I Am Man.” And “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” when the show bosses don’t want her to follow Arnstein to Europe. Or, in Monte Carlo, “Sadie, Sadie” married lady.
But I don’t believe the story part of the show, which is hurried over. Arnstein loses a real estate investment in a Miami hurricane. Fanny gets someone to offer to set him up in a theatrical agency, and he gets angry when he realizes she was paying for the deal. So, maybe he wasn’t after her money. He gets involved in a shady operation and ends up in prison for three years. But his character wasn’t set up to go there.
Very good in the show were the supporting actors, Eddie the tap dancer (Jared Grimes), Fanny’s loyal friend, and her mother Rosie Brice (Jane Lynch), who ran a saloon on Henry Street in Brooklyn. But there again there’s a casting problem. Rosie is tall and thin, hard to think she and Fanny had the same genes.
The problem of this production is not that Feldstein does not make you think of Barbra Streisand, who created the first “Funny Girl” star. It is that she does not make you think of Fanny Brice.
“Funny Girl.” Original book by Isobel Lennart, revised by Harvey Fierstein, directed by Michael Mayer. August Wilson Theatre 245 W. 52nd St. NYC. 212 560-2188. Runtime 2:50. Opened April 24, 2022. Beanie Feldstein continues till July 31, then is replaced by Lea Michele. Review on New York Theatre Wire. @FunnyGirlbway. Review on New York Theatre Wire.