The belters on hand were the theater's own Carolee Carmello, Idina Menzel, Julia Murney, and Lillias White, plus one ringer: TV's Ricki Lake. They and such other stars as Kristin Chenoweth, Whoopi Goldberg, Jane Krakowski, Andrea Martin, Donna Murphy, Bebe Neuwirth, Christine Ebersole, Ana Gasteyer, Sutton Foster, and Marissa Jaret Winokur will be sharing the role of Fanny Brice when a special gala concert performance of Funny Girl is presented at the New Amsterdam Theater -- the site of Brice's real-life triumphs in the Ziegfeld Follies -- on Monday, September 23 at 7:30pm. The mastermind of the show is Seth Rudetsky, who will also serve as musical director and conductor.
Many singer-actresses who might be terrific in Funny Girl are afraid of the role because of Streisand's indelible association with it, so it was smart of Rudetsky to avoid the issue by casting multiple Fannies. Does he think it would be a good idea for the show to be revived on Broadway with one fabulously talented diva in the lead? "Well, I used to think it wouldn't be," he replies. "But I have to say, after rehearsing with some of these girls, I was like: 'Wow, they really could carry the show.' The problem is, all the girls we have are essentially too pretty. I mean, it really was the perfect show for Barbra."
There's also the stamina issue. "I was rehearsing with Sutton Foster," Rudetsky continues, "and she said, 'I don't understand how any one person could sing all of these numbers every night.' You know, there was no matinée Fanny; Barbra did eight performances a week. That's why I think this is the best way to do it, with a bunch of Fannies." According to Rudetsky, only women who possess true musical theater chops were enlisted for the concert. "We could have gotten some bigger names, some movie stars," he says, "but everybody really had to be able to deliver. Every number has to end with the audience saying, 'Oh, my God, that's amazing.' Our cast is incredible. My mouth is agape at rehearsals."
In addition to all those Fannies, the concert will feature Peter Gallagher as Nick Arnstein, Kaye Ballard as Mrs. Brice, and John Scherer as Eddie Ryan, with such folks as Sam Harris, Gary Beach, Brad Oscar, and Liz Smith set to appear in various smaller roles. Even the Radio City Rockettes are promised to participate.
Set in New York City in the 1920s, Funny Girl tells the story of the legendary singer-actress-comedienne Fanny Brice from her rise to stardom in the Ziegfeld Follies through her doomed marriage to gambler Nick Arnstein. Barbra Streisand received a Tony Award nomination (but lost to Carol Channing in Hello, Dolly!) for her work in the original 1964 Broadway production of the show and won an Academy Award for Best Actress (in an unusual tie with Katharine Hepburn for her performance in The Lion in Winter) when she recreated the role in the 1968 film version. In addition to "People" and "Don't Rain on My Parade," the Jule Styne-Bob Merrill score for the show includes such songs as "I'm the Greatest Star," "You are Woman, I am Man," and "The Music That Makes Me Dance."
Tickets for the benefit concert on the 23rd are still available at the $250, $500, $1,000, and $2,500 levels. For information, phone The Actors' Fund of America at 212-221-7300, ext. 133.