MadCap Productions Play Series.
Music by Jule Styles, Lyrics by Bob Merrill.
Book by Isobel Lennart from an original story by Miss Lennart.
Produced by Wendy Kaplan.
Directed by Stephen Genovese.
Funny Girl in Small Theater Proves “Less Can Be More”!
Did you hear that shout? How could you miss it? That roar of approval came from the throats of a delighted audience which had just seen reality transcend expectation. Who could have predicted that a formerly tacky little movie house on a side street in Skokie, could morph into a charming, intimate theater (seating 140) able to mount a triumphant production of Funny Girl? This romantic, semi biographical musical comedy based on the life of Fanny Brice, intertwines two tales — the professional rise of a talented, but plain, young singer/comedian and the rise and fall of her personal life. Plot and performance are consistently engaging.
The star, Sally Staats, is not Fanny Brice. Neither is she Barbara Streisand. It doesn’t matter because Staats has made this stage her own with a winsome, touching performance. She and Rob Ibanez, as the gorgeous, gambler Nick Arnstein share a magical chemistry. Even those who may think the 1968 movie version with Streisand and Omar Sharif can’t be topped will be surprised by what the immediacy of a well-done stage production can achieve. Staats and Ibanez are surrounded by a talented ensemble of actors, singers and dancers. Fanny’s long suffering mother is played with verve by Meagan Piccochi, who is especially delightful in interactions with her comedic poker-playing girlfriends. Jessica Noelle Evans nearly steals the show as noisy neighbor Mrs. Strakosh, and stately Bob Sanders is perfect as the often-thwarted showman, Florenz Ziegfield.
Set designer G. “Max” Maxim IV’s clever stage — making the small appear far larger — is flanked by two staircases — perfect for Follies’ entrances and exits. These stairs frame a large backdrop screen which reflects all the necessary, innumerable scenes — from the grimy backstage of a theater to the extravagant front of the house, from the tawdry New York streets to the stunning interiors of hotels and mansions. Nothing is static as long shots melt into close-ups. Props are minimal, showing how little is needed to set a perfect scene and proving apt the saying, “less can be more.” Behind the screen, a five-member orchestra — performing on eight instruments — provides music for 18 wonderful songs which include such memorable numbers as “People,” “You are Woman, I am Man,” “Don’t Rain on my Parade,” “Sadie Sadie, Married Lady,” and the heart wrenching “My Man.”
Kudos to the creative costume designer Patty Halajian for the amazing variety of colors, materials and styles. In one vivid scene, glamorous showgirls modeling large feathered headdresses descend the famous Follies staircases. Kudos also to Choreographer Julie Salk who skillfully expands the ensemble dances until they seemed to fill a huge Broadway stage.
Under the solid direction of Stephen Genovese, one of the most hilarious moments of the musical pits Ziegfeld and Fanny against each other when he wants her to sing and ode to her beauty. Her revenge is too show-stopping to reveal with a spoiler. Go see for yourself!
Beverly Friend, PHD., member of the American Critics Association.
Date Reviewed: September 9, 2016.
At 1:30 pm on the first Wednesday of each month, at the Skokie Theatre, Musical Historian Charles Troy presents a remarkable multi-media background program on a specific musical. In addition to introducing Funny Girl, on Wed. Sept 7 he gave a second lecture on Tues Sept 13 at 7:30 pm. On Oct. 5, he will cover The Wizard of Oz (Tickets $15).
Skokie Theater, 7924 N. Lincoln Ave, Skokie, 847-677-7761, skokietheatre.org (Tickets $39, Seniors $34, Students $29), Friday and Saturday at 7:30, Sundays at 2, through Oct 2. Open seating.