Saturday, July 2, 2011

Hello, Gorgeous...A Tribute to Marilyn Michaels and the other Funny Girls!

"You think beautiful girls are going to stay in style forever? I should say not! Any minute now they're going to be out! Finished! Then it'll be my turn!"
-Fanny Brice in Funny Girl

Hello, Gorgeous People!

I've been thinking a lot lately about the proposed Broadway revival of FUNNY GIRL...(and the woman who did the first national tour!), the first since it closed on Broadway on March 12th, 1964. I've been thinking about it for a few reasons. Last month, I saw Chip Defaa's wonderful ONE NIGHT WITH FANNY BRICE starring Kimberly Faye Greenberg at St. Luke's Theatre.

I've written about this in a couple of blogs. Go see this show to get a truer account of Fanny Brice's life. Also, this week, I read a wonderful article written by the marvelous Marilyn Michaels in this week's New York Times referring to the right qualifications to play Fanny Brice. Marilyn Michaels, a singer and comedian known for her impersonations of Barbra Streisand and other celebrities, offers suggestions for the producers looking to cast the demanding role of Fanny Brice in the coming revival of “Funny Girl.”
(A NIGHT OF NEARLY 100 STARS @ Queensboro Community College
May 8, 2005, Barry Levitt, Marilyn Michaels and 'Carol')

I don't think there is a person alive today who doesnt equate Fanny Brice with Barbra Streisand and vice versa. Of course, it made Barbra a star...and vice versa! Although, Barbra lost the Tony to Carol Channing (for Hello, Dolly! that year (1964), she went on to win the Oscar for the film AND even did the film version of Hello, You Know Who!. Barbra's understudy in Funny Girl was Lanie Kazan. Barbra was replaced in the run by Mimi Hines.
Barbra Streisand came out of the small Greenwich Village clubs fully formed, bursting upon the worlds of Broadway, Hollywood, television, and recordings in a totally unique, sometimes controversial way.
(Courtesy of Marilyn Michaels
Marilyn Michaels in the national touring company production of “Funny Girl.”)

Marilyn Michaels did the first national tour of Funny Girl.

Marilyn writes, "In 1965, when the composer Jule Styne ran up to me onstage at the Winter Garden Theater during auditions for the national company of “Funny Girl” and exclaimed, “You must do this part!,” he saw qualities in me that any actress playing Fanny Brice must have to make the role believable."

I've had the pleasure of working with Marilyn twice and she has always been to me a CLASS ACT all the way! Producers, forget Funny Girl ! Bring Marilyn Michaels to Broadway!

Winner of an Outer Critic Circle Award and a Drama League Award for her debut in Catskills On Broadway, Marilyn Michaels is America's premier woman of a thousand faces and voices. From the time she starred as Fannie Brice in the national company of Funny Girl, garnering rave reviews throughout the country, and through her debut on the Emmy winning television series, The Kopykats, Marilyn has become familiar to fans all over the world.

She is known to audiences by her countless appearances on such television shows as The Tonight Show, Regis and Kathie Lee, Lifestyles with Robin Leach, The Today Show, Sally Jesse Raphael and The Howard Stem Show. Ed Sullivan Show, Sullivan on Broadway,The Dean Martin Show, Dean Martin Roasts,Name of the Game with Sammy Davis, etc...

Marilyn has brought her gift for satire and her powerful singing style to such diverse venues as Las Vegas and Atlantic City, starring at Harrahs hotel in the dazzling revue, Broadway Ballyhoo. Known as a "tripple threat performer" she is one of the few performers in show business who can be seen hosting a standup show such as Girls Night Out for Lifetime or dealing with topical and pertinent social issues as host of CNBC'S Talk Live.

Then in the blink of an eye, you will catch her doing a commercial for Diet 7Up or appearing in concert at Town Hall or The Sylvia and Danny Kaye Playhouse in what she views as her true root talent, that of a singer. Then there are those who know Marilyn's theatrical heritage and have heard her sing in five different languages, or caught her performing with her mother the famed female Cantoress, Fraydele Oysher. She guested on the PBS special Another Mitzvah, along with Alan King and Erica Jong, and hosted WLIW television's Awards in Excellence Gala.

Marilyn began her career singing with her mother, Fraydele, when she was seven. At the age of 15 she was soloist in her father's choir, the late Metropolitan Opera basso, Harold Sternberg. The cantor was her uncle, the legendary Moishe Oysher. It was through this musical heritage that Marilyn honed her ear for sounds, dialects and languages.. Her character portrayals have been seen on such national shows as Spelling/Goldberg's The Love Boat, and as a guest star on the soaper One Life To Live. Her rendition of Donna Summer and Barbra Streisand singing via split screen on an NBC Award show has become a cult favorite. She has appeared with the Philadelphia and Long Island symphonies, as well as displaying versatility as a narrator with multiple personalities in the Emmy winning Reading Rainbow for PBS (Gregory the Terrible Eater) as well as the narration for the audio book, Frankly Scarlett, I Do Give A Damn (Harper Collins)

A many facetted woman , Marilyn is an accomplished painter whose landscape paintings and celebrity artworks have shown in New York and Palm Beaches finest galleries. Her art poster, The Fabulous Blondes (E Channel, Celebrity Homes) depicts a mural consisting of filmdom's movie goddesses. (Source: Marilyn Michael's website)

Marilyn, and with all due respect to all the other Funny Girl's, YOU are my favorite!

I've actually seen three productions of Funny Girl over the years. The first was at the now defunct, Equity Library Theatre. Boy, do I miss that theatre! It was 1986 and starred Carole Schweid as Fanny Brice.

Stephen Holden wrote of her performance in that show in the NY TIMES, "'FUNNY GIRL,'' the musical that catapulted the young Barbra Streisand into the stratosphere in 1964, is a star vehicle if ever there was one. Its portrait of Fanny Brice, an ambitious, insecure kook, bursting at the seams with a talent that is matched only by an unbridled chutzpah, is a plum that requires a larger-than-life performer - and not necessarily Miss Streisand - to make it breathe with excitement. At the very least it demands someone with the compulsive clown's instincts to show off and turn everything into a shtick - someone so self-dramatizing that even off the stage she is giving a performance.

Carole Schweid, who plays Fanny in the Equity Library Theater's revival of the show, has a low-keyed charm but very little drive. Her Fanny is a cheerfully mousy girl-next-door with big brown eyes, a plaintive Cheshire cat grin and an appealing awkwardness. But Miss Schweid doesn't give the role nearly enough energetic charge to suggest a show-business lightning bolt. And her small, nasal voice, which frequently wavers in pitch, is suited to only one aspect - the cutesy, nostalgic side -of Jule Styne and Bob Merrill's multifaceted score. "

I have to agree. I felt SOMETHING was missing.

I next saw it at The Papermill Playhouse in 2001 starring the amazing Leslie Kritzer! SHE should do this on Broadway!"Funny Girl

John Kenrick in his review of the show wrote, "A tornado passed through central New Jersey last week, but no one who was on hand had any complaints. In fact, we all stood and cheered till we were hoarse, for this was a musical comedy tornado, and her name is Leslie Kritzer."The Paper Mill Playhouse team said they had found an exciting new talent to star in their long awaited revival of Funny Girl, and they were not exaggerating. Kritzer is no imitation of Stresiand, but every inch an original. She's a powerhouse singer who can wring the heart out of "People," and then sustain clarion notes in showstoppers like "Don't Rain on My Parade" until you wonder how so much sound can come out of such a petite package! In between, she fills "You Are Woman" with flawless physical shtick, and does things with a pillow and bridal gown in "His Love Makes Me Beautiful" that even Streisand never thought of. Would that Broadway had waited until this lady came along to revive "Once Upon a Mattress" – here at last is someone worthy of Carol Burnett's comic legacy.

Kritzer has such assurance that its surprising this young New Jersey native has few previous credits. (Her only NY stint was in the off-Broadway revival of Godspell.) I'll bet you this much – she will have major credits in years to come, and those of us lucky enough to catch her in this Funny Girl will brag that we were there for that rarest of events – the birth of a genuine star."

I also was at The Revision Theatre concert version in 2009 in Asbury Park starring Steven Brinberg as Barbra Streisand as Fanny Brice in Funny Girl with an all star cast!

Nick Arnstein: I'd be happy to wait while you change.
Fanny: I'd have to change too much, nobody could wait that long.
Lanie Kazan introduced the evening, told a few anecdotes and sang HIS IS THE ONLY MUSIC THAT MAKES ME DANCE. Here is Steven as Simply Barbra!

After "Hello, Dolly!", people thought every show needed a hit title song. . Producers wouldn't open the Jones and Schmidt show 110 in the Shade in England unless there was a title song. The first version of the song "Funny Girl" was written to be sung on roller skates, but this proved too dangerous to stage. When they cut the skating, they also cut the number. Jule Styne and Bob Merrill then wrote a second version, then a third one for the movie (heard here), hoping finally to pull off a hit title song and grab an Oscar. It was nominated-but alas, lost out to Michele Legrand's "The Windmills of Your Mind."

Fanny Brice: Where I come from, when two people... well, sort of love each other... oh, never mind.
Nick Arnstein: Well? What do they do when they "sort of love each other"?
Fanny Brice: Well, one of them says, "Why don't we get married?"
Nick Arnstein: Really?
Fanny Brice: Yeah, and sometimes it's even the man.

Fanny Brice: You could get lonesome being that free.
Nick Arnstein: You could get lonesome being that busy.
Fanny Brice: Now who'd think to look at us that we got the same problem!

Fanny Brice: He's a gentleman. A gentleman fits in anyplace.
Rose Brice: A sponge fits in any place.

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Richard Skipper,

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