MAC Theatre’s 2011-2012 season ender, the 1964 musical Funny Girl, based loosely on the life and career of entertainer Fanny Brice, opened a two-week run in the Arts Center’s Grosh Performance Hall this past Friday. Final shows: May 3-5 (evenings) and May 6 (matinee).
First off, let me make it clear that whatever nits there may be to pick with this kinda-biographical revue-drama (and there are several), our local production is a wonderfully satisfying mix of song and dance spectacle, one I can’t imagine anybody failing to enjoy and applaud.
But about those nits: Funny Girl’s biggest problem is that it never decides what it wants to be. It seeks to celebrate Brice’s off and on association with the fabled Ziegfeld Follies, a tale it can tell effectively in the Follies’ own glitz-and-glamour medium. But it also wants to get serious about Brice’s personal life, especially her stormy relations with and marriage to con-man (and con) Nick Arnstein, a burden of extra complication that refuses to merge with the showbiz side of the story.
Add that much of this supposed documentary detail is totally bogus, and the backstage half of the script feels even less relevant. And given how much of the surplus dialogue isn’t either devastatingly clever or infectiously charming, it seems a case where less would likely be more.
Add that the musical score itself is far from magical—only one certifiable knockout tune (“People”) and a couple wannabes—and Funny Girl’s a project in dire need of a super lead artist—like Barbra Streisand—and a topnotch company of star performers to sell its goods.
Happily MAC Theatre once again was able to locate and lay on the necessary resources of talent. As Fanny, Chantelle Constable is unsinkably, unstoppably splendid. Like Brice herself, who reputedly became “Baby Snooks” when playing that signature role, Constable inhabits her character’s persona. Every line, every move, every note, she’s there lighting it up.
Almost sweet enough to make us forgive his smarmy, shiftless, sponging ways, Glenn Davis’s Nick is so charismatic we can’t blame Fanny for falling for him and his get rich schemes. He’s in earnest, he means well, he even trusts himself—what’s not to like?
Always a joy to have MAC veterans like Sheldon Edelman and Paul Weidhaas add their mature gracenotes to the show. And what a pleasure to hear D.J. Davis belting it out from the stage and stroking the keys at intermission in the lobby.
In fact all of the on-stage players (including the stage band: Director Fred Burrack on keyboard, bassist Nolan Groff and drummer Robert Russell) helped lift the presentation. I regret not being able to mention all of you by name.
But there were important invisible helpers as well. Especially in a musical sound and lighting are critical, of course. Both were managed expertly. Choreography has to match dancers’ capabilities so that nobody looks out of their depth. Again, success. And vocal coaching is equally vital if singing pitfalls are to be avoided. Sounded good to me!
All told, then, a truly Musketeer-style effort, everyone pitching in for the benefit of all. Not quite a sow’s ear to start with, maybe, but certainly a silk purse in the end. Bravo all. See you in the fall.