Thursday, May 22, 2014

Village pulls out all the stops on "Funny Girl"

Sarah Rose Davis as Fanny Brice (photo Mark Kitaoka)

Funny Girl
Village Theatre
Issaquah: through July 6
Everett: July 11-August 3

The final show of Village Theatre’s season is Funny Girl, the classic musical turned movie by Jule Stein, Bob Merrill and Isobel Lenhart. Village pulls out all the stops on the technical elements, flying in stage drops and pushing and pulling set pieces just about every 30 seconds! It’s a dizzying technical feat. Some of those stage pictures (like the “wedding” song tableau) are absolutely gorgeous. (Set designer is Bill Forrester.)

It’s a “big” show with a large ensemble cast filling the stage, enchanting bits of choreography by Kristin Holland, and a lot of brass in the orchestra (music directed by Tim Symons and Bruce Monroe). Outstanding smaller roles include a star turn for John David Scott and his terrific tapping, along with his charmingly poignant friendship with Fanny that endures while he clearly is in love with her. Also, great fun is had with Fanny’s mom, Bobbi Kotula, and busybody neighbor Mrs. Strakosh, Jayne Muirhead.

But the focus of the evening, indeed the person who is barely off-stage for even a moment, is Sarah Rose Davis as Fanny. Davis has everything she needs to bring this role to life: a terrific voice, ability to lapse adorably into funny-awkward comedic moments, and the knowledge of how to put a song over the transom and deliver. This show taxes all her abilities to their limit and she rises to the occasion beautifully.


She has 18 different costume changes (!) into some gorgeous gowns (by Karen Ann Ledger) and also has seven (of 11) huge songs in the first act alone. That act includes the manic-comedic I’m the Greatest Star and Don’t Rain on My Parade. On opening night, Davis technically sang terrifically, and on the big slower numbers (People, for example), she blew off the roof.

Those two, though, call for a heart-on-the-sleeve moment of more raw emotion, and Davis wasn’t quite open enough to be vulnerable. Given the nerves and the size of her role, it’s likely that she’ll be able to develop and deliver everything as she relaxes into the complicated production. Sometimes, a song needn’t be sung perfectly to give the audience the emotional punch they need to fall in love with a performer.

The story is based on the real Broadway performer, Fanny Brice (1891-1951), and the musical was developed somewhat concurrently with the movie script by screenplay writer Lenhart. Lenhart first wrote a screenplay and subsequently, it was developed as a stage musical. Barbra Streisand starred in the musical before later making the film. The book of the musical is pretty plain, delivering a fairly straight-line history of how Fanny got on the stage, but not really showing the depth of Brice’s talent and how she was so unique, except that she used comedy to get noticed.

It tells the story of her longing for stardom and the combination of insecurity and brash “I’ll try anything to get you to notice me” personality. The musical makes much of her falling for the shady gambler character of Nick Arnstein, even though many warning signs should have given her pause. The story tracks the real life ups and downs of that relationship and ends when Arnstein abandons her. Brice’s life continued with many successes after that.

The success of the musical is mostly due to the amazing collection of songs, many which have slipped into American culture as song standards for the ages. A couple of the songs performed in Village’s production were not included in the film, so you get more tap-happy chorus lines on stage. Director Steve Tomkins keeps the rhythm humming and never lets the show lag.

This is a great chance to see a big musical done the way it’s supposed to be done, in a big way! For more information, go to www.villagetheatre.org or call 425-392-2202.