I went to see the new Broadway revival of Funny Girl on April 23, which put me at the last matinee performance on the final day of previews…
Then, after Funny Girl opened the next day and all the reviews started coming in, I asked myself: What show did these critics see?
When I went into the theater, I was already a big Beanie Feldstein fan. I probably would have cheered her on no matter what she did up there on the big stage, and I think a lot of people in my matinee audience felt the same way. When the lights came up and all we saw was her silhouette, we were already erupting with applause. But from her first “Hello Gorgeous,” we were no longer watching Beanie Feldstein; we were watching Fanny Brice. And, almost immediately, the crowd’s mood shifted from supportive to awestruck.
Beanie radiated so much joy and charisma that watching her was a delight.
Beanie as Fanny was absolutely magnetic. She radiated so much joy and charisma that watching her was a delight. Her physicality was impressive to say the least: somehow, though she danced clumsily, you didn’t want to take your eyes off of her. And she had her perfect counterpart in Ramin Karimloo (who made a wonderful Nicky Arnstein). Beanie’s energy and passion balanced Ramin’s cool and collected charm, making us fully appreciate why he was so taken with her.
Most important, Beanie was hilarious! Seriously, she must have broken some record for most laughs per minute on a Broadway stage. Yet in the dark moments, Beanie had us holding our breath and choking back sobs. When I say she had the audience in the palm of her hand, I mean it. And it wasn’t because Beanie is a “movie star;” it was because Beanie is a fantastic actress.
Fanny Brice’s success was due to a combination of personality, stage presence, and charm.
So, when I read the reviews, I was genuinely shocked. I wondered if these critics had seen the same show that I saw. I couldn’t picture a single person in the audience watching it and feeling dissatisfied unless they’d shut their eyes, tuned everything out, and waited to hear the voice of Barbra Streisand herself… then, inevitably, finding themselves disappointed when they didn’t.
It’s true, Beanie didn’t belt every note, and she certainly didn’t capture Babs’s signature sound. However, the way that Beanie sang made her a believable Fanny, just as Babs had been believable in her day. Beanie’s voice was tender and vulnerable, which suited her depiction of Fanny in a new and unexpected way. That her voice wasn’t always a powerhouse only emphasized the real reason Fanny was “The Greatest Star”: her success was due to a combination of personality, stage presence, and charm.
Beanie’s voice has a wonderful tone and a lovely vibrato. But—you ask—did Beanie nail the iconic last note of “Don’t Rain on My Parade”…? You betcha! My matinee audience rose to its feet as one. We applauded and cheered and screamed. Then the curtain came down on Act One, and everyone in sight was smiling.
To me, it makes perfect sense that the original Funny Girl book was written by a woman because playwright Isobel Lennart conveys such a deep appreciation of what it takes for a woman who is not considered “beautiful” to become a star. This perplexing reality affected Barbra Streisand in her day just as much as it affected Fanny Brice in hers, and it is now coming down—hard—on Beanie Feldstein.
Funny Girl is about a woman who shows the world (and shows herself), that she can be a star even though she doesn’t conform to traditional Western beauty standards. In the 1960s, Babs’s performance was a hugely important leap forward in representation for Jewish women and forever changed the possibilities of who could be a star. Likely, no one will ever understand the importance of representation for Jewish women better than Jewish women themselves, so kudos to Isobel Lennart for being so foresighted. (Note that, in 2022, comedienne Sarah Silverman has made this one of her own personal crusades.)
Talent—especially on the Broadway stage—isn’t limited to a size 2.
Like Babs’s rapturous singing voice, Beanie’s jubilant performance skills lead to the same end result—a new appreciation of what counts as “beautiful.” After all, to the 21st Century ear, doesn’t the idea of every woman we see on stage looking “pretty like a Miss Atlantic City” sound a bit monotonous? Wanting a full range of mainstream representations isn’t a whiney cry for “political correctness,” but a loving embrace of human diversity.
Talent—especially on the Broadway stage—isn’t limited to a size 2. Why should Beanie have to look like a tall, thin chorus girl when she’s not in the chorus? Beanie as “the greatest star”—is absolutely beautiful. She always has been, and her beauty really shines through in every moment on stage.
Funny Girl celebrates the miracle of talent, and Beanie Feldstein opens up new possibilities for female stardom in the 2020s just as Fanny Brice did in the 1920s and Barbra Streisand did in the 1960s.
Nobody, no, nobody is gonna rain on OUR parade 😊
© Julia Lasker (5/6/22)—Special for FF2 Media®
LEARN MORE/DO MORE
Watch interviews with Beanie plus additional Funny Girl 2022 cast members.
Buy tickets to Funny Girl 2022 at the August Wilson Theatre on Broadway.
Learn more about Jewish American playwright/screenwriter Isobel Lennart.
Watch a few fabulous moments of Barbra Streisand dancing in a swan costume!!!
Hear what Sarah Silverman has to say about “Jewface” casting.
CREDITS & PERMISSIONS
All Funny Girl 2022 images downloaded from the Funny Girl on Broadway website.
Featured Photo: Fanny breaks through singing “Coronet Man” at Keeney’s.
Bottom Photo: Fanny does it her way at the Ziegfeld Follies.
After the 4/23 Matinee (from left): Julia Lasker, Jan Lisa Huttner & Amelie Lasker.