Review: Funny Girl Makes a Star of Its Lead Katerina McCrimmon

The tour of the Broadway revival makes a stop in Los Angeles through April 28.

Katerina McCrimmon plays Fanny Brice in the National Tour of Funny Girl, now at the Ahmanson Theatre.
(© Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade)

I won’t rain on your parade. In the new Funny Girl tour, Katerina McCrimmon is very funny, with a brassy voice to boot. She carries the show on her capable shoulders at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles and stops for applause throughout.

Based on the life of Ziegfeld star Fanny Brice, Funny Girl takes audiences back to Fanny’s youth in New York around 1910, when chorus girls were regal and sexy. With a distinctive nose, a Jewish accent, and a bawdy sense of humor, Fanny can’t catch a break in show business. She’s “a bagel on a plate of onion rolls.” But undeniably talented, she proves quickly that she is — to quote the first big number — “The Greatest Star.” Playing the burlesque circuit, she meets a suave gentleman, Nicky Arnstein (Stephen Mark Lukas), a gambling bon vivant who instantly recognizes her star potential. Several years later, the famed producer Flo Ziegfeld comes calling, and Fanny becomes a massive success. At that moment, Arnstein returns to her life as dashing as ever.

The role of Fanny can be a burden because it has become synonymous with original star Barbra Streisand — for whom three songs have long since become her signatures. Though the original was a hit in 1964 and ran for over 1,300 performances, the 2022 revival marked its first return to Broadway. To her credit, Katerina McCrimmon would seem completely unaware of her predecessor. She breathes fresh life into Fanny, never leaning into familiar mannerisms or tics. I even sensed that she had gone back to early sound movies and the many radio programs Brice had made in order to create a fresh performance. Her voice is triumphant, and her comedy, charming, with a touch of sadness. McCrimmon shines through it all.

As Mrs. Brice, Melissa Manchester settles into a vaudevillian parody of a Jewish mama with a piercing nasal voice and gesticulating hands, but the characterization works because she’s warm and cutting, comforting and truthful. Lukas has a lovely baritone voice and sings the songs well, but he rests on pretty, so his performance lacks charge or chemistry with his leading lady, and his delivery comes off as grandiose. Izaiah Montaque Harris is an excellent hoofer as the confidant Eddie, but his acting falls short of his fancy footwork.

The cast of the National Tour of Funny Girl, now at the Ahmanson Theatre.
(© Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade)

Funny Girl’s book by Isobel Lennart has always been gossamer thin. It wasn’t groundbreaking even in 1964. There are too many In-Ones (scenes in front of traveler curtains giving time to move the sets) and unnecessary reprises. Even with revisions by Harvey Fierstein, Fanny is not allowed enough character arcs or growth, and Act 2 becomes maudlin.

But the splendid 17-piece orchestra sounds almost double its size, particularly when playing the majestic Jule Styne overture. The ensemble has great range in the numbers and works coherently with the conductor, so neither the singers nor musicians drown out one another.

Choreographer Ellenore Scott and tap choreographer Ayodele Casel create buoyant routines for “Cornet Man”, “Rat-Tat-Tat-Tat,” and the end of “Sadie Sadie.” David Zinn’s sets evoke an early 20th century glamour. Susan Hilferty’s costumes dazzle with glittering tuxedo pants and sparkling Ziegfeld girl costumes.

Director Michael Mayer got rid of some of the muck that mires down Funny Girl. The lead performance and the score will lure audiences, but the weak story structure could have been altered without disappointing fans. Thankfully, the wonderful score is intact, and Katerina McCrimmon is unquestionably a star.


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Closed: April 28, 2024