Produced by: Hillbarn Theatre
Featuring: Melissa WolfKlain as Fanny Brice, William Giammona as Nick Arnstein, with Rachelle Abbey, Richard Ames, Christine Baker, Justin Buchs, Jennifer Butler, Becca Carteris, Stephanie Case, Tracy Chiappone, Paige Collazo, Steven Ennis, Matt Gill, Dennis Lickteig, Emily Mannion, Jessica Maxey, Maureen O’Neill, Regina Quigley and Jon Toussaint
Directed by: Dan Demers
Creative team: Music director Joe Murphy, choreographer James Zongus, scenic designer Kuo-Hao Lo, lighting designer Don Coluzzi, costume designer Lisa Cross, sound designer Alan Chang, hair and makeup designer Dee Morrissey and properties designer A.J. Diggins.
When: August 28 through September 21, 2014. 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays
Where: Hillbarn Theatre, 1285 East Hillsdale Boulevard, Foster City, California
Tickets: $23-$42. Call 650-349-6411, extension 2 or visit www.hillbarntheatre.org.
Read John Orr's interview of Melissa WolfKlain before the show opened.
See Tracy Martin's video of the "Funny Girl" sitzprobe, when the cast and the orchestra get their first chance to rehearse together.
Read Paul Freeman's interview of Melissa WolfKlain and Dan Demers in The Daily News.
shining brightly as Fanny Brice
the rest of the cast is pretty great, too
Do you and me a favor: Go see Melissa WolfKlain as Fanny Brice in "Funny Girl" at Hillbarn Theatre.
It will be a favor to you, because WolfKlain is brilliant and thoroughly entertaining in the role, and it will be a favor to me because I want to do some good in this world, and getting you to go see this show qualifies.
Think about what it must be like for an actor to carry a two-hour show where she is on stage almost all the time, has more than a dozen major songs to sing, significant jokes and heavy drama to carry, and, must tap-dance.
And, she is playing the great Vaudevillian Fanny Brice.
There must be a thousand decisions she has to make in the course of the show smile here, show sadness there, mug like a goof in this bit and WolfKlain does all the right things throughout the show, bringing this fictionalized story of the famous vaudevillian and star of screen and radio to life with wit, charm and humanity. It is fascinating to watch her bravura performance.
"Funny Girl" is 50 years old this year. It was a show, produced by Ray Stark, that took a long time to get all its pieces together, but finally Isobel Lennart wrote the book, Bob Merrill wrote the lyrics and Jule Styne wrote the music, and in March of 1964 it opened on Broadway, running for 1,348 performances. It was nominated for eight Tony Awards but won none of them. Barbra Streisand was the original star, on stage and in the 1968 movie.
It is a highly fictionalized telling of Brice's biography, leaving out her first marriage altogether and glossing over the richly criminal past of her second husband (of three), Nick Arnstein. Maybe they thought it'd be more romantic if Brice seems sort of virginal during the charming "You Are Woman, I Am Man" scene.
It's a delightful, romantic musical with a bittersweet ending and a musical WolfKlain has never seen, in any form. She said she plans to watch the Streisand movie after this run ends at Hillbarn. What she did do is watch some Fanny Brice videos on YouTube, which seems to have informed her New York accent and maybe her delivery of the comedy.
WolfKlain is hilarious in the role, and sings beautifully.
She is surrounded by a great cast, in what seems a pull-out-the-stops production to open Hillbarn's 74th season, and its first with Dan Demers as executive artistic director.
Justin Travis Buchs, an Equity member who's had a fine career in the Bay Area, including stops at A.C.T., TheatreWorks San Jose Repo and other troupes, informs the character of Eddie Ryan with friendship and love for Fanny, and sings and tap-dances up a storm. Every moment with him on stage is a good moment. This is his debut with Hillbarn.
The great Tracy Chiappone, who has graced Hillbarn's stage before, is fabulous, funny and in excellent voice as Mrs. Brice. She is always fun to watch.
William Giammona is handsome and well-dressed in the almost thankless role of Nick Arnstein. A good singer and a good actor, he brings that sad story to life.
It's always fun to see Steven Ennis and Maureen O'Neill in any role. Ennis, who was completely hilarious in "Spamalot" at Hillbarn, and delightfully rubber-faced in the lead role of "Young Frankenstein" at Palo Alto Players, holds down a few different part in this production. O'Neill is always appealing, and was very much fun to watch as Mrs. Strakosh in this show.
The rest of the huge cast were all fun to watch. No weak performances under Demers' capable direction.
A few things have changed at the Hillbarn, some for the better, some not so much. As Demers pointed out in his pre-show speech, there are handrails on the audience stairs, which were roundly applauded. There is a mezzanine orchestra space, behind a black wall, where a 17-piece orchestra was squished in tightly. The audience can't see the band, but can certainly hear it, as the sound bounces off the ceiling and into the auditorium. Music director Joe Murphy is visible on a monitor behind the audience, a useful tool for the onstage cast. Demers said thought is being given to putting a window in the black wall.
Even with that wall blocking some of the sound, the sound mix was amiss on the tunes "People" and "Who Are You Now?" when WolfKlain's vocals were overwhelmed by the orchestra. Most of the rest of the time the mix was fine.
The actors wore face mikes, which was good, although the placement of WolfKlain's mike on her forehead was unfortunate. At first I thought it might be a big mole I hadn't noticed in her portraits. It was rather distracting.
Also new at Hillbarn is a proscenium, and Demers made a point of thanking the Buljan Group a family-run real estate company, for that and for otherwise sponsoring this show.
The weird thing is, it wasn't as effectively used as it might have been, even with the great designer Kuo-Hao Lo at work. Lo's set for "Spamalot" at Hillbarn in 2013 was brilliant in every way, and we've seen him do great work elsewhere. But I get the feeling and I recognize I may completely be wrong about this that Lo and Demers just weren't entirely comfortable with having a proscenium.
There is no fly space at Hillbarn, so Lo took the route of making four-sided towers than can be spun around to make different sets. Brick walls for "Henry Street," marble veneers for the house in Long Island, set pieces for the Ziegfeld Follies bits, including a brightly lit set of stairs for the bride's entry in "His Love Makes Me Beautiful" scene. And all that was at least acceptable, if sometimes seeming a bit cramped. Which is part of the price of being in tiny Hillbarn.
What rankled for me were the scenes with actors just standing in front of the big red stage curtain, on the old cement floor. Presumably we are meant to be seeing them backstage in some theater, but throwing a few props on stage at those times shipping crates marked with theater names, a rigging rack for prop ropes, something would have helped. Instead, it was like watching an actors' workshop. Really good actors, but still.
And, painting the floor to look like an old wooden stage would have helped.
Yes, I'm quibbling. That's what critics do. But overall, I gotta tell ya ... this is a powerfully cast show, with great performances. Go see it.
Oh, also: The costumes, by Lisa Cross, were excellent. Big dresses for the neighborhood, fancy threads for the slick gambler, rich gowns for the star, Fanny Brice, all beautiful. Also impressive were makeup and wigs by Dee Morrissey. Plenty of fine dancing choreographed by James Zongus. Like I said: Go see this show.
Email John Orr at email@example.com