theatre preview

by Julie Styne, Bob Merrill and Isobel Lennart
Arts Club Theatre at the Stanley
November 11-January 9
$28.50 - 59.00
604-687-1644 or

Bill Millerd’s decision to tackle Funny Girl at the Stanley runs significant risks. Can a Vancouver company handle such a quintessential Noo Yawk musical? Can Cailin Stadnyk measure up to the standard set by Barbra Streisand, she of the amazing voice, who became a star with the show on Broadway, made “People” her signature song, and won an Oscar for the movie? And can the Arts Club manage the financial risks of a production this size with a cast of 17, a six-piece orchestra, dozens of lavish costumes, etc? The answers: Yes, Definitely, and Yes. A terrific show with a talented funny girl in the title role, this looks like the number one hit of the Christmas season.

Funny Girl is the ugly duckling tale of Fanny Brice, a goofy comic singer from the Lower East Side with no shortage of chutzpah, who rises to stardom in 1920s vaudeville with the Ziegfeld Follies. Her professional success comes pretty quickly, despite the opening song, “If a Girl Isn’t Pretty,” that suggests that “if a girl’s incidentals/Are no bigger than two lentils,” she’ll have a tough time.

The real narrative focus is the poor little rich girl story of Fanny’s relationship with Nicky Arnstein, the sophisticated gambler whom she loves, wins, and eventually loses. Today we’d say he feels threatened by her money and success. But the script, written in the pre-feminist 1960s, says she emasculates him. It’s her own fault, Nicky and her mother agree, and so does Fanny herself in the finale where she also decides: to hell with it, “nobody is gonna rain on my parade.” The reprise of the best song in the show carries more conviction than the sexist theme. Besides, Nicky is ultimately a drip. Who needs him? There’s a reason it’s not called Funny Guy. You go, girl!

Tall, thin and almost too pretty, Cailin Stadnyk, so impressive as the squeaky-voiced movie starlet in last year’s Singin’ in the Rain, is absolutely adorable as Fanny. She’s not a belter and can’t match Streisand’s power and rich tonality, especially in the ballads, but who can? There’s no way I’ll ever hear any but Streisand’s voice no matter who sings “People” or the gorgeous “Music that Makes Me Dance.” Stadnyk has a fine voice and a wonderful gift for comedy. She sells everything she sings, particularly the comic chorus numbers. Most importantly, she’s completely lovable. We root for her all the way.

Stadnyk gets strong support from an ensemble of singers who can sing and dancers who can dance—not always a given in Vancouver musicals. Ruth Nichol as Fanny’s stage mother and Patti Allan as a yenta neighbor are both very funny. Todd Talbot as Eddie, her mentor and lifelong friend, is a tap dance whiz with a nice voice and endearing stage presence who can play the kazoo standing on his head! Don Noble makes an appropriately debonair Nicky. Kudos to director Bill Millerd and his whole production team for nailing the period with its corny but slick vaudeville style. Special praise to Valerie Easton for the choreography. You know it’s good when you find yourself wishing there were more dancing.

Ironic footnote: The original production of Funny Girl was nominated for eight Tony Awards in 1965. It lost five of them, including Best Musical, to Hello, Dolly, with Streisand losing Best Actress to Dolly’s Carol Channing. Hello, Dolly was the show that nearly bankrupted the Playhouse last year, causing the company to eliminate musicals from its season and leaving the field to the Arts Club. Call this Funny Girl’s revenge.

Jerry Wasserman

last updated: December 28, 2004 5:39 PM
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