REVIEW: Funny Girl (Drury Lane Oakbrook)

Go to ‘Funny Girl’ for the music

 Marc Grapey Adam Pelty Sara Shepard Jameson Cooper Tammy Mad

Drury Lane Oakbrook Terrace presents:

Funny Girl

Music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Bob Merrill, book by Isobel Lennart
Conceived by Gary Griffin and William Osetek and directed by William Osetek with associate director David New
Music direction by Ben Johnson
Through March 7 (ticket info)

reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

Sara Shepard Barbra Streisand so owned her role in Funny Girl that the 1964 musical has never had a Broadway revival. Loosely based on the life of stage and screen star Fanny Brice (1891–1951), the original ran 1,348 performances, became a hit film in 1968 and forever associated the songs "People" and "Don’t Rain on My Parade" with Streisand. Since the leading actress sings 14 of the 19 songs in the score, that’s a tough act to follow.

So let’s get the inevitable comparison over with: Spirited Sara Sheperd, in the leading role of Drury Lane Oakbrook Terrace’s solid, sophisticated production of "Funny Girl," neither looks nor sounds like Streisand. In fact, she resembles Brice more closely than Streisand does. Her voice, though, is all her own, and she more than holds her own in the part.

If you’re going to this musical for the music, you won’t be disappointed. Jule Styne and Bob Merrill wrote wonderful songs and Sheperd gives them full measure.

Acting excels, as well. Sheperd plays Fanny with verve and a Brooklyn tang. We also see fine acting and talented dance moves from Jameson Cooper, as her fallback friend and mentor Eddie Ryan. Catherine Smitko is keenly sardonic as Fanny’s saloon-keeping mother, and Paul Anthony Stewart suavely shallow as her smooth-talking lover, Nick Arnstein.

If you’re looking for the color and grandeur of Brice’s vaudeville and "Ziegfeld Follies" career, that’s another story. This is a dark version of a troublesome show.

Holly Stauder Iris Lieberman Cathy Smitko Mary Mulligan Joey Stone Ensemble
Joey Stone Sara Shepard Nicole Hren Ariane Dolan Jameson Cooper

Told as a flashback in short, choppy scenes, the storyline covers the feisty comedienne’s determined rise from little-known Brooklyn performer to Broadway star and her love affair with Arnstein, a playboy, gambler and con man. Isobel Lennart’s uneven book reduces Brice’s life to a series of aphorisms. Stamped more by 1960s sensibilities than by those of Brice’s lifetime, the script sweeps aside such issues as Brice’s pre-wedlock pregnancy and sends a slew of mixed messages.

Are we supposed to admire Fanny for her plucky self-confidence as a performer or pity her for her profound insecurity over her looks? Should we applaud the stick-to-itiveness that leads her to practice all night or the devil-may-care with which she abandons long-sought success and leaves associates in the lurch to go running after a man? "Funny Girl" seesaws so rapidly through different moods, we’re left to wonder whether it’s a comedy or a tragedy.

Paul Anthony Stewart Paul Anthony Stewart Sara Shepard Sara Shepard 2

Every show needn’t have deep meaning, and I don’t mind much when songs and dance numbers trump plot and continuity in musicals. This production, weighted toward the downside, though, gives us little razzmatazz to counter the incongruities of the script.

Sheperd’s renditions of the well-known songs sometimes come off as slightly breathless, making numbers like "I’m the Greatest Star" curiously understated. Restrained scenes out of the celebrated "Follies" add no flash — in Act II’s "Rat-Tat-Tat-Tat," for example, costume designer Elizabeth Flauto dresses the chorus in olive drab, and the showgirls of the chorus wander through the scenes clad in street clothes or rehearsal wear. Instead of Ziegfeld’s pomp and glamour, we get rear-alley views and lackluster dance sequences. The stage often looks too empty.

A brave production, with excellent performances, Funny Girl is worth its ticket price, but don’t expect catharsis. At show’s end, we don’t know whether to applaud Fanny or cry for her.

Rating: ★★★

Kent Haina Nicki Hren Joey Stone Zach Zube Anne Acker Jarret

Drury Lane Oakbrook announces 2010 Season

Drury Lane Oakbrook announces 2010 Season

Ragtime
directed by Rachel Rockwell
March 24 – May 23 (previews begin March 18)

A nostalgic and powerful portrait of life in turn of the century America , Ragtime is based on E.L. Doctorow’s distinguished novel.  The musical intertwines the stories of a Harlem musician, a wealthy New York family and a Latvian Jewish immigrant. Ragtime poignantly explores history’s timeless contradictions of wealth and poverty, freedom and prejudice, hope and despair, and love and hate.  Featuring a Tony Award winning book by Terrence McNally, and a Tony Award-winning score by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens, Ragtime combines diverse fictional characters with several famous figures of the era to create a stirring musical portrayal of turn-of-the 20th century America.

Sugar
directed by Jim Corti
June 9 – August 1 (previews begin June 3)

Sugar originally debuted as the widely known film “Some Like it Hot, starring Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, and the blonde goddess, Marilyn Monroe. The film then was transformed into the musical Sugar, which opened at the Majestic Theater in 1972, running for 505 performances and earning four Tony Award nominations. In this side-splitting musical, two struggling musicians witness what appears to be the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre and try to find a way out of the city under the threat of the mob. Unfortunately, they are in no position to finance such a move. Desperate times call for desperate measure and the pair take on the only job available—as an all-female band heading to Florida . The cross-dressing frauds board a train and ride right into a world of trouble.

Hot Mikado
directed by David H. Bell
August 18 – October 3 (previews begin August 12)

Since its opening, thousands of audiences have enjoyed the hilarious Broadway musical Hot Mikado, which is an adaptation of the classic Gilbert and Sullivan tale, The Mikado set in the 1940s. This production will be directed by the writer of the book and lyrics himself, multi-Jeff Award winner and Helen Hayes Award winner David H. Bell.

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
directed by Bill Jenkins
October 20 – December 19 (previews begin October 14)

Set in Oregon in 1850, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers is the story of Adam Pontipee, a man who simply goes to town looking for a bride. He finds Milly working in a restaurant and convinces her to marry him. Milly’s ecstasy quickly sours when she finds she is to also take care of Adam’s six unkempt, burly brothers. Deciding to make the marriage work, Milly sets a plan into motion to marry off the brothers, including teaching them how to court women. This plan turns out to be much more difficult than originally anticipated and leads to a series of madcap events.  A delightfully funny love story, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers received a Tony Award for Best Original Score and began its life as a beloved 1954 MGM movie musical that has only improved in its stage adaptation.

Spamalot
directed by William Osetek
January 6, 2011 – March 13, 2011 (previews begin December 31)

With a book and lyrics by Eric Idle and an entirely new score created by Idle and John Du Prez, Spamalot will be directed by Drury Lane Oakbrook’s Artistic Director William Osetek.  Osetek has directed numerous productions at Drury Lane Oakbrook including the annual holiday favorite, A Christmas Carol.  The multi-Tony Award winning Spamalot debuted on Broadway in 2005 and recently made its final appearance after 1,574 hysterical performances. Telling the legendary tale of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table and their quest for the Holy Grail, Spamalot features a chorus line of dancing divas and knights, flatulent Frenchmen, killer rabbits and one legless knight.


The remainder of Drury Lane Oakbrook’s 2009 season features the Tony Award-winning Cabaret, directed by Jim Corti, previewing August 13, opening August 19 and running through October 11. The delightful Jazz Age musical Thoroughly Modern Millie, directed by Artistic Director William Osetek, previews October 22, opens October 28 and runs through December 20, and the beloved musical Funny Girl, directed by Gary Griffin, previews December 31, opens January 6 and runs through March 7, 2010.

All of Drury Lane Oakbrook shows are produced by Kyle DeSantis, Drew DeSantis and Jason Van Lente; presented by William Osetek, Artistic Director and Gary Griffin, Associate Producer