‘Funny Girl’ won’t rain on your parade at Kennedy Center

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews 'Funny Girl' at the Kennedy Center (Part 1)

Theater people who need other theater people are the luckiest people in the world.

Katerina McCrimmon stars as Fanny Brice in the national tour of "Funny Girl." (Evan Zimmerman)

That’s because they don’t rain on your parade when all you want to do is belt a showtune.

The national tour of the iconic musical “Funny Girl” sings into the Kennedy Center now through July 14.

“It was on Broadway in the ’60s, the movie came out in ’68, and there really hasn’t been a first-class production since then — our revival on Broadway in 2022 was the first revival,” Actor Stephen Mark Lukas told WTOP. “Folks may know the music, they may know the songs, they may have seen the movie, but our production touring is the first chance that a lot of folks have had to see the musical, so it’s more than just a show, it’s a theatrical event.”

Written for the stage in 1964 by Isobel Lennart (book), Jule Styne (music) and Bob Merrill (lyrics), the show follows the life of Broadway legend Fanny Brice, who rises the ranks of showbiz despite a tumultuous relationship with gambler Nicky Arnstein. The semi-autobiographical show was produced by Brice’s son-in-law Ray Stark.

“Fanny Brice was a huge star in the early 20th century,” Lukas said. “She was an enormous star of ‘The Ziegfeld Follies’ on Broadway, she was a radio star, she toured with vaudeville, so she was a huge trailblazer for women in comedy. She was one of the first, if not the first, female comedy stars as a comedian, so the show tracks her rise to stardom from her humble beginnings in Brooklyn to becoming a star on Broadway and then even beyond.”

Rising star Katerina McCrimmon stars as Brice, a role that earned Barbra Streisand a Tony nomination on stage in 1964 and catapulted her recording career with chart-topping tunes before winning her an Oscar in the 1968 movie (a rare Best Actress tie with Katharine Hepburn for “The Lion in Winter”). Imagine if Lady Gaga had won for “A Star is Born” (2018) — that’s how stunning it was for Streisand to win the Oscar for her debut film role!

“Our Fanny Brice is the brilliant Katerina McCrimmon, who I believe is in her 20s, she’s very young and she is phenomenal,” Lukas said. “Her voice is spectacular, she is incredibly funny and audiences are in for a treat to get to see her version of Fanny Brice in particular. … Doing it with Katerina is such a joy, she’s such a wonderful scene partner to be able to tell this story of this relationship that was such a big part of her life.”

Lukas plays the suave entrepreneur turned gambling addict and con man Nicky Arnstein, a role originated by Charlie Chaplin’s son Sydney on stage and then made famous on screen by the great Omar Sharif, who was at the height of his handsome popularity after David Lean’s “Lawrence of Arabia” (1962) and “Doctor Zhivago” (1965).

“My very first voice teacher in college told me in one of my first lessons, ‘You’re gonna play Nick Arnstein one day,’ and I had no idea what that meant,” Lukas said. “Understudying Nick (on Broadway) was really my first experience of getting to know ‘Funny Girl.’ … He’s a fascinating character. He’s this well-put-together man about town in the first act, then in the second act he really struggles and unravels, so it’s a fascinating journey to take every night.”

While William Wyler’s film version lost the Best Picture Oscar to another musical in Carol Reed’s “Oliver!” (1968), the soundtrack was voted one of the American Film Institute’s Top 25 Movie Musicals of All Time. Meanwhile, the Original Broadway Cast recording was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2004, while a new generation discovered the songs thanks to the Broadway revival starring Beanie Feldstein, followed by Lea Michele (“Glee”).

“Folks will know ‘Don’t Rain on My Parade,’ which is the big Act 1 closer when Fanny decides that she’s going to go after Nick Arnstein,” Lukas said. “‘People’ is another song in the first act. … ‘I’m the Greatest Star’ is another one folks may know; ‘You Are Woman, I Am Man;’ in the second act you have ‘The Music Makes Me Dance’ … a lot of songs that people will know and hopefully come home humming as they leave the theater.”

If you fancy yourself a fan of Broadway musicals, this is one production you don’t want to miss.

“It is a great, big, old-fashioned Broadway show with terrific tap-dancing and a beautiful score, so it really is a love letter to the theater,” Lukas said. “Audiences will be in for a treat in both the eyes and the ears.”

Find more information here.

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews 'Funny Girl' at the Kennedy Center (Part 2)

Listen to our full conversation here.

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Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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