Tuesday, July 29, 2014

FUNNY GIRL • Stray Dog Theatre

Stray Dog closes its season with Bob Merrill and Jule Styne's "Funny Girl", very loosely based on the life of turn-of-the-century actress, singer and radio star, Fanny Brice. This story of a young Jewish girl from the Lower East Side and her rise to stardom is heavily associated with Barbra Streisand, who originated the role onstage in 1964 and starred in the 1968 film adaptation, but Lindsey Jones puts her own stamp on the score with a reliably strong voice, anchoring the show. Isobel Lennart's book (perhaps the weakest part of the musical) narrows the focus of Brice's life to her career in the Ziegfeld Follies and her marriage to charismatic gambler, Nick Arnstein, played here by Jeffrey M. Wright.

We start at the dressing table of Fanny, who's waiting for her husband's return after his release from prison. From there the story unfolds as a flashback with her mother, Mrs Brice, (Laura Kyro) and her friends playing a game of poker. Mrs. Strakosh (Lynda Levy Clark) and Mrs. Brice try to discourage a teenaged Fanny, who by that time had already worked in vaudeville, from aiming for higher show business dreams because of her plain looks. With the encouragement of her friend, a dancer with a crush named Eddie Ryan (Zach Wachter), and her own determination and talent, Fanny wins over Florenz Ziegfeld (Michael Monsey) and lands a job in the Follies. She first meets Nick before that at Keeney's Music Hall when he visits her backstage. This handsome gambler is willing to bet on Fanny and her career, and Fanny is immediately taken with him. As Fanny's star rises, her relationship and eventual marriage to Nick becomes complicated.

(l to r) Rachel Kuenzi, Mike Hodges, Kendra Moore,
Lindsey Jones (Fanny Brice), Angela Bubash, Brendan Ochs,
and Sara Rae Womack. (seated) Emily C. Johnson,
Kelvin Urday, Corey Fraine, and Eileen Engel.
Photo credit: John Lamb
While Jones and Wright do exceptional work, the two don't seem to gel until near the end when the stakes are highest. Still, in addition to Jones turning in strong performances in the most well known songs, "People" and "Don't Rain On My Parade", she has some wonderfully comedic moments. Wright slips into the role of the alluring Nick Arnstein smoothly, and their duet, "You Are Woman, I Am Man" is charmingly funny. Kyro turns in an earnest performance as Fanny's mother, along with Wachter (who's got some sweet tap skills) as an endearing Eddie Ryan. Their duet "Who Taught Her Everything?" was a highlight. Clark is also strong as the meddling Mrs. Strakosh, and Michael Monsey has the bluster, if not the austerity, of Broadway heavy hitter, Florenz Ziegfeld.

(l to r) Laura Kyro (Mrs. Brice), Lindsey Jones (Fanny Brice),
Zach Wachter (Eddie Ryan), and Lynda Waters (Mrs. O’Malley).
Photo credit: John Lamb
The ensemble members are a little uneven but capable, and handle Zachary Stefaniak's choreography nicely. Robert J. Lippert's scenic design features a grand staircase and makes good use of the stage with a glimmery curtain opposite the staircase, and set pieces to accommodate a variety of locations efficiently and smartly. Director Gary F. Bell also provides a variety of stylish costumes, with lighting by Tyler Duenow and musical direction by Chris Petersen.

This rarely revived musical doesn't make an appearance that often, and though not perfect, if you've never seen this onstage before, the lead performances make it worth your while to check out.


FUNNY GIRL

Book by Isobel Lennart
Lyrics by Bob Merrill
Music by Jule Styne
Directed by Gary F. Bell
Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee Ave.
through August 9 | tickets: $18 - $20
Performances Thursday to Saturday at 8pm, additional performances Wednesday, July 30 at 8pm and Saturday, August 9 at 2pm

Cast:
Lindsey Jones (Fanny Brice), Jeffrey M. Wright (Nick Arnstein), Laura Kyro (Mrs. Brice), Lynda Levy Clark (Mrs. Strakosh), Lynda Waters (Mrs. O’Malley), Jan Niehoff (Mrs. Meeker), Zach Wachter (Eddie Ryan), Eileen Engel (Emma), Michael A. Wells (Tom Keeney), Michael Monsey (Florenz Ziegfeld), Michael A. Wells (Mr. Renaldi), Ensemble/Chorus: Angela Bubash, Eileen Engel, Emily C. Johnson, Rachel Kuenzi, Kendra Moore, Sara Rae Womack, Corey Fraine, Mike Hodges, Brendan Ochs and Kelvin Urday

Creative:
Scenic design by Robert J. Lippert; costume design by Gary F. Bell; lighting design by Tyler Duenow; choreography by Zachary Stefaniak; music and vocal direction by Chris Petersen; stage manager, Justin Been.

Band:
Director/keyboard, Chris Petersen; acoustic bass, Andrew Gurney; percussion, Bob McMahon; reeds, Gabe Newsham & Harrison Rich; trumpet, Andrew "AJ" Lane.

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