Music by Julie Styne
Lyrics by Bob Merrill
Book by Isobel Lennart
Conceived by Gary Griffin & William Ostetek
Directed by William Ostetek
Associate Director David New
Music Direction by Ben Johnson
Choreographed by Matt Raftery
At Drury Lane Oakbrook Theatre
“I’m better onstage that at intermission.” –Fanny Brice
Strong performance by Sara Sheperd as Fanny Brice makes Funny Girl a hit!
Funny Girl, the seldom mounted 1964 classic Broadway musical about the life of Fanny Brice, is so associated with Barbra Streisand that most playhouses shy away from the piece. Not the talented artists at Drury Lane Oakbrook who, under the collective talents of Gary Griffin, William Ostetek and David New, have found a most talented actress to play Fanny Brice–Sara Shepard.
What Shepard does so eloquently is play Fanny Brice–not echo Streisand. She belts the tunes “People,” “I’m the Greatest Star,” “Don’t Rain On My Parade” and “The Music That Made Me Dance” with a combination of emotional grit and wholesome truth. Shepard’s comedic and acting chops are winningly shown with as she presents both Brice’s toughness and her vulnerability. Fanny Brice’s determination to be a star allowed her to become a fabulous comic for the Ziegfeld Follies for many years in the early 20th Century.
This semi-biographical story chronicles Brice’s rise from humble Lower East beginnings to the heights of stardom by 1918. We see her desire to see herself as ‘beautiful’ rather than just ‘funny.’ Her con artist, gambler husband Nick Arnstein (the debonair Paul Anthony Stewart) became humiliated as Fanny became richer, more famous and more secure than he. Brice’s loving gestures to often bailout Nick with money and influence caused resentment and a rocky estrangement in their marriage. We see a Fanny becoming more at home onstage than at her home with Arnstein.
The musical features a terrific score and lyrics by Julie Styne and Bob Merrill that captures the vaudeville style of the early 20th Century complete with several showstopper dance numbers (richly choreographed by Matt Raftery) including “Cornet Man,” “His Love Makes Me Beautiful, ” “Sadie, Sadie” and “Rat-Tat-Tat-Tat”–a tap-march number as Ziegfeld’s answer to George M Cohan’s “Over There.” The show has anthems and moving ballads as well.
Funny Girl is a richly staged (set design by Jack Magaw) featuring fabulous period-perfect costumes (Elizabeth Flauto) as a backstage show that gives a glimpse into the complex Fanny Brice’s persona. Sara Shepard’s poignantly truthful performance channels the singer-comedian. Jameson Cooper’s Eddie Ryan, Catherine Smitko’s Mrs. Brice and Iris Lieberman’s Mrs. Strakosh each gave excellent performances. Drury Lane Oakbrook continues to offer exquisite productions. Kudos to them for remounting Funny Girl and welcome Sara Shepard to Chicago.
Funny Girl will run through March 7, 2010 at Drury Lane Oakbrook. The show runs 2 hours 30 minutes with intermission. Performances are Wednesdays at 1:30 p.m., Thursdays at 1:30 p.m. and 8 p.m., Fridays at 8:30 p.m., Saturdays at 5 p.m. and 8:30 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. Tickets range from $29-$38 and lunch/dinner packages are available for $43.70-$61.00. Student and senior discounts are available as well . For reservations call 630-530-0111 or visit www.ticketmaster.com or www.drurylaneoakbrook.com.