Still Funny After All These Years

Posted: April 4, 2011 in Comedy, Culture, Entertainment, New York City, Nightlife, Performance, Theater, Theatre, Uncategorized

Kimberly Faye Greenberg in "One Night with Fanny Brice"

Embodying the character of the legendary Fanny Brice is a Herculean task for any performer, not merely because the lady herself was such an enormous presence, but because it’s been done so often in the past. Streisand, of course, became the biggest star on earth after portraying Brice in Funny Girl, and since that time the role has been notably brought to life by such giantesses of stage as Mimi Hines, Marilyn Michaels, Lainie Kazan and Rosalind Harris, either on the national stage or worldwide. Even as recently as 2002, the fabulous musical was revived as a concert at the New Amsterdam (appropriate, since Brice herself historically performed there with the Ziegfeld Follies) with no less than eighteen powerhouse dames of Broadway portraying Brice, among them Lillias White, Carolee Carmello, Judy Kuhn, Sutton Foster, Kristin Chenoweth, Jane Krakowski, Andrea Martin, LaChanze, Julia Murney, Bebe Neuwirth and Idina Menzel. As such, the dynamite Kimberly Faye Greenberg most certainly would have had the chips stacked against her from the get-go when she agreed to take on the role in One Night with Fanny Brice, written and directed by the intrepid playwright and journalist Chip Deffaa and currently running at St. Luke’s Theatre (308 West 46th Street), but she rises to the challenge as always, and hits a bullseye in almost every aspect of this particular shootin’ match.

Deffaa, ever a master at knowing every possible facet of whom he chooses to biograph, has crafted an afternoon of musical theatre that is never less than abject entertainment, and Greenberg doesn’t merely look exactly like Brice but she undeniably captures the spirit of the lady’s showmanship. Carrying a one-woman show of this type is never easy, but she absolutely trumps the ace. Charming stories of Fanny’s rise to stardom and her tormented relationship with Nick Arnstein besides her marriage to Billy Rose are vividly painted before our eyes, as well as her purported psychic abilities and her dear friendship with Gypsy Rose Lee, coupled with such standout numbers as “I’m an Indian,” “Ja-Da,” “Oh, How I Hate That Fellow Nathan,” and of course “My Man,” “Second Hand Rose” and “Rose of Washington Square.” It’s a bit surprising that “Cooking Breakfast for the One I Love” wasn’t included, but this hardly warrants a quibble. And with the marvelous Richard Danley at the helm as musical director and accompanist along with Jonathan Russell on violin, Greenberg is gorgeously supported.

If there is a caveat, and it’s not particularly enervating at that, it’s that Fanny Brice’s life has already been spelled out for audiences by virtue of Funny Girl and numerous documentaries, and there are very few literal surprises in the narrative; it’s rather like knowing beforehand that people are going to die on the Titanic and then going to see the show or the film. And with that in mind, our leading lady might want to try harder at truly engrossing us in the story, because it’s occasionally rather hit-or-miss in terms of her delivery. Conversely, while Greenberg shows a total enthusiasm for tap dancing, purists of that particular terpsichore are certain to notice an occasional misstep. This is by no means the personal fault of anyone involved, but as such, the theatre cognoscenti of New York might be less apt to enjoy the show than those tourists looking for a wonderfully entertaining afternoon. And it is indeed a wonderfully entertaining afternoon. In addition, the show is a natural candidate for a national tour and would probably do beautifully on the road, because every element exists for easy transportation. It should also be noted that the recording of the score, released by OC Records and available for purchase on CDBaby.com, is absolutely exquisite.

Ergo, it can be loudly proclaimed that in One Night with Fanny Brice, the amount of silver linings far outdistance the clouds. By all means, your humble writer encourages attendance and to bring friends, if only for the sheer delight of basking in the brilliance of Fanny Brice besides so much else.

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