Steven Appreciates... Funny Girl! (or "Barbra, Bancroft, and Betty Boop...Oh My!")

Steven Appreciates... Funny Girl! (or "Barbra, Bancroft, and Betty Boop...Oh My!")

*This post is dedicated to my friends in The Barbra Streisand Group and I Like Barbra Streisand on Facebook! Their passion and zeal for Barbra inspired this week's appreciation!*

After a devastating election cycle and months of anxiety, I have decided to steer this blog back to what it was created for - a celebration of things I adore and want to analyze with my own brand of caustic wit. I always abide by that old adage attributed to writer Dorothy Parker: "The first thing I do in the morning is brush my teeth and sharpen my tongue." 

So, in no particular order, I am going to showcase the remnants of my childhood nostalgia and current obsessions, not limited to genre, popularity, or even common sense.

Today's edition of my appreciation series is that smash hit musical/movie that made a legend out of its star: Funny Girl!

Funny Girl, the immortal musical about the tempestuous life of Vaudeville Star Fanny Brice, premiered in 1963 with a book by Isobel Lennart, music by Jule Styne, and lyrics by Bob Merrill. The show catalogs Brice's life, in a flashback, from her beginning as an idealistic mieskeit "girl who isn't pretty" to glamorous Ziegfield Follies star.

After languishing in showbiz hell for years, starting as a movie screenplay (turned down by Anne Bancroft) and morphing into a musical (turned down by Eydie Gorme), the show gained its ace in the whole for success: a virtual unknown named Barbra Joan Streisand.

Streisand was having success in New York clubs such as the Bon Soir, as well as her first musical semi-flop I Can Get it For You Wholesale!, which included one of my favorite Broadway "character songs", "Miss Marmelstein":

Funny Girl would prove to be the flint that started the fire burning within her soul.

The show introduced not only Streisand herself, but also her signature songs, including "I'm the greatest star", "People", and "Don't rain on my parade!" Aside from Barbra, the show featured Sydney Chaplin, son of Charlie, as Fanny's gambling lover Nick Arnstein.

Though the show was a hit and nominated for eight Tony Awards, it lost in every category. The Best New Musical trophy went to the Carol Channing smash-hit Hello Dolly! (That year was big on exclamation points in Broadway titles, apparently.)

The movie was adapted into a brilliant movie adaptation in 1968, directed by Bette Davis' favorite director, William Wyler. Streisand repeated her role as Fanny, with the hunky Omar "Shariff won't like it" Shariff as Nick. It won Streisand the Best Actress Oscar. Her words upon receiving the statue were the words that heralded the start of the film: "Hello Gorgeous!"

And now, it's time for everybody's favorite segment of Steven Appreciates: "Steven's Fanatical Five Female Facts!™" of Funny Girl!:

1. Though Streisand is seen as the ultimate Fanny, there have been several brilliant women who have helmed the role. Lainie Kazan, know for her comedic chops in movies such as My Big Fat Greek Wedding and Beaches, understudied Streisand in the original Broadway production, going on for her several times:

Mimi Hines took over for Streisand when she left the original production:

In 2002, a concert version for the benefit of the Actors' Fund was staged at the New Amsterdam Theatre. A different actress played Fanny in each scene, and included such Broadway luminaries as Carolee Carmello, Kristin Chenoweth, Sutton Foster, Ana Gasteyer, Whoopi Goldberg, Jane Krakowski, Judy Kuhn, Julia Murney, LaChanze, Ricki Lake, Andrea Martin, Idina Menzel, Bebe Neuwirth, Alice Playten, Lillias White.

2. Mrs. Brice, Fanny's mother, was played in both the original Broadway production and the movie by comedienne Kay Medford:

Medford, despite never playing the role of the world's most infamous stage mother, recorded an entire album of songs from another Broadway hit, Gypsy. The results are...well...interesting, to say the least!

3. Mrs. Strakosh, Mrs. Brice's curmudgeonly-charming friend, was played by two entirely different actresses. In the OBC, she was played with nasal, Jewish glee by Jean "Edith Bunker" Stapleton, who chides Fanny with her taunting song, "If a girl isn't pretty":

In the film version, she was played by Mae Questel, the original cartoon voice of both Betty Boop and Olive Oyl (in Popeye)!

Even when singing about how ugly Fanny is, you can almost hear her say Boop-Boop-Be-Doop!

You may also remember her from her comic turn in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation:

4. Anne Francis played Fanny's fellow Ziegfeld girl Georgia. Francis' role was originally going to be more substantial, but it was slowly diminished in favor of the star. Like Donizetti's deletion of Lucia's confidante Elisa in the French revival of the opera Lucia di Lammermoor, it was easier to isolate Fanny to see her true emotions than have a sidekick trailing her around incessantly.

5. In 2012, a new revival was supposed to open on Broadway starring Lauren Ambrose and Randy Graff, but closed when the producers backed out, stating that in "this economic climate, many Broadway producing investors have found it impossible to maintain their standard level of financial commitment." Randy Graff, who was to play the role of Fanny's Mother, tells the story of the moment she found out that she was sacked:


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In this episode, Steven and Jack discuss the results of the election!

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