Different people who need people have finally come to “Funny Girl” on Broadway.
The trouble-ridden revival of Jule Styne and Isobel Lennart’s 1964 musical welcomed its new Fanny Brice, Lea Michele, on Tuesday night, with Tovah Feldshuh as her Brooklynite mother.
And the crowd goes “mazel tov!”
Michele arrives with confidence and a splendid voice amid an onslaught of flat stories about the early departure of her predecessor, Beanie Feldstein. Indeed, no Broadway switcheroo has been this dramatic since Andrew Lloyd Webber unceremoniously ousted Patti LuPone from “Sunset Boulevard” and hired Glenn Close instead.
In an attempt to give the change some breathing room, the production is officially inviting critics to review the show in three weeks. So The Post bought its own ticket Tuesday for the best seat in the house – Rear Mezzanine Row Q.
Either way, the delay is unnecessary. Michele is ready to leave. She gets carried away and plays like she’s been singing “Don’t Rain On My Parade” in the shower every day for 10 years. Hell, she probably did! With the titanic Feldshuh, the “Glee” star elevates this missing production into something much more palatable than it was in the spring. (Many existing issues remain, however.) This time, I really enjoyed it.
Michele brings real singing power to the table as Fanny – the role made famous by Barbra Streisand – who was sorely lacking in the revival and is beyond vital. If you know the show, you know you don’t come for the gripping scenes. It’s all about the songs. ‘Don’t Rain On My Parade’, ‘People’ and ‘The Greatest Star of All’ now all sound smooth, loud and satisfying.
Michele’s best number, however, is “The Music That Makes Me Dance” – a thoughtful tune sung after his family life crumbled as his fame skyrocketed. Michele hasn’t been on Broadway since leaving “Spring Awakening” in 2009, and her soul-searching and vulnerability in the years that followed are evident. As Wendla in “Awakening,” she was an inexperienced child – on stage and off. His Fanny, on the other hand, is tough, hurt and defensive from the start. She’s not always adorable, but that’s the right take for this actress.
There was, admittedly, a time or two when I missed Feldstein and his candor. When Nicky Arnstein (Ramin Karimloo) woos her with a beef tenderloin in a hotel suite during “You Are Woman, I Am Man,” the experience doesn’t look fresh. Laughter does not flow freely. Elsewhere, however, Michele has a knack for a set-up-knock-em-down punchline.
Yet, miraculously, the funniest girl in the August Wilson Theater is not the main character, but the great Feldshuh. In a role that’s harder to pull off than a beige accent wall, the seasoned actress has the crowd laughing with almost every line.
And she never, ever exaggerates a single word. His often-subdued Mrs. Brice is grounded in reality — and hilariously hilarious about it. She takes the pieces of Henry Street, Brice’s Brooklyn nabe, and elevates them from functional transitions to treasured moments. It is a wonder.
However, a strong cast can only help a lot. A lot of pressure was put on Michele (and Feldstein, for that matter) to carry an inherently flawed musical that never really worked. Act 1, with iconic Styne songs, a “Star Is Born” storyline, and plenty of sexy romance has you hooked more than ever. But, as edited by Harvey Fierstein, Act 2 remains a lazy wannabe “Gypsy” on the perils of fame. As her gambling-addicted husband loses money, we lose interest. Michele and Feldshuh can’t do anything about it. Director Michael Mayer’s staging is still a horror.
What the pair manage to do — alongside the ever-wonderful Jared Grimes — is bring our favorite songs to life and make us laugh. It’s not the best night of all, but it’ll be okay.
New York Post