I was disappointed to read this in The New York Times:
The Broadway producer Bob Boyett had never heard so much bad news in a single week: Four longtime investors in his shows had each backed out of his latest, a $12 million Broadway-bound revival of the hit 1964 musical “Funny Girl,” he said in an interview on Friday.
I am a big fan of “Funny Girl” (one of my favorite pastimes in my single days was to spend an evening listening to the original cast recording while whittling down my scotch supply) and would have enjoyed seeing it performed on Broadway. It is unlikely that some Transformers musical with a score from Soundgarden or something else offensive from the “South Park” creators will provide as compelling a reason for me to return to New York.
Reading this article, I can understand, if not necessarily agree with, some of the arguments for not moving forward, specifically the mainstream name recognition of Lauren Ambrose, who would have played Fanny Brice, the role Barbra Streisand made famous on both stage and screen.
At the same time, the buzz among Broadway ticket agents and other producers was that the star of “Funny Girl,” the television actress Lauren Ambrose (“Six Feet Under”), might end up giving a brilliant performance, but she was unlikely to sell many tickets on her name. Most musical revivals are star-dependent, since theatergoers tend to be familiar with the music; hence the casting of stars in current Broadway hits like “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” (Daniel Radcliffe), “Anything Goes” (Sutton Foster), and “Follies” (Bernadette Peters).
The wording of the last sentence confuses me: Although I thought Radcliffe was great in “How to Succeed,” I wouldn’t compare him to Foster and Peters, who are both predominately known for their theatre work. Peters is undeniably a movie star, but Foster, aside from a “Law & Order” (of course), has not done much of note off-stage.
Radcliffe’s performance is certainly a best-case scenario of driving ticket sales by casting a major name without sacrificing the integrity of the show. However, I’m uncertain as to how brilliant Ambrose’s performance would have been. This is a killer role that requires vocal and theatrical chops. As the article states, Ambrose is a television actress. Yes, she’s a trained opera singer and, yes, she’s in a jazz band (Lauren Ambrose and the Leisure Class… Really), but that all amounts to diddly with a side of squat because we’re talking about Barbra Frickin’ Streisand here. Ambrose was going to have to get on stage eight times a week and sing “Cornet Man” (how many unfortunate women out there have that song on a mixtape I made them?), “People,” and “Don’t Rain on My Parade.” This sounds like a Christopher Durang-penned nightmare. Is it possible she mistakenly thought she’d signed up for a staging of Judd Apatow’s “Funny People“?
I found a clip on YouTube of Ambrose and her band performing “My Man,” which was Brice’s signature song (you can listen to the original here and Streisand’s version from the 1968 film “Funny Girl” here). It strikes me as inauthentic pantomime. She learned in a vocal class once that Billie Holiday stomped her feet when overcome with emotion, but you don’t get that she actually experienced anything she’s singing about — not that I would wish that upon her. It sounds rough.
They say Mama Rose is the female King Lear, but “Gypsy” has had four revivals. No one has touched “Funny Girl” (with the exception of a 2002 concert version with Foster) because it is so closely identified with Streisand, then just 22 when it premiered. And it’s not just Streisand’s voice — she had the motzie necessary to portray the incomparable Brice, which brings up a delicate matter: Brice was Jewish, as is Streisand. Ambrose is not. I know it’s all just acting, but Brice and Streisand both shot to fame in an industry that generally perceived them as the “other.” As the show itself says, “If a girl isn’t pretty like a Miss Atlantic City. All she gets in life is pity and a pat.” What’s unspoken is that the definition of “pretty” at the time tended to exclude women with frizzy hair or certain shape of nose. Casting Ambrose would discard the tension or force the production to “tell” but not “show,” as it seems unlikely that Ambrose grew up in a world that thought she was ugly — more suited for the life of a laundress on the Lower East Side than the life of a glamorous actress on the cover of magazines.
That said, I hardly want to persuade the producers to try again with currently popular and perhaps superficially more appropriate Lea Michele. I’d prefer seeing Laura Bell Bundy exclaim “oy gevalt!” than have the “Glee” star anywhere near “Funny Girl.”
For now, though, I can content myself with the still pristine original 1964 production. Here’s Streisand bringing down the first act curtain with “Don’t Rain on My Parade” (from the film not the show, as it was much harder to sneak camera phones into Broadway theatres back then):