The Paper Mill Playhouse production of “Funny Girl,” the Fanny Brice bio-musical, suggests that the tuner has been too long on the shelf. Playhouse artistic director Robert Johanson has a special affinity for backstage musicals (his 1998 “Follies” was widely acclaimed). While “Funny Girl” is essentially a star vehicle focusing on one central character, Johanson also captures the brassy showbiz ambiance surrounding the star. And he has found an enchanting new talent to fill the role of the title character and the shoes of more than one Broadway legend.
As Brice, Leslie Kritzer triumphs in the daunting task of acting and singing a role so firmly associated with one performer, Barbra Streisand. She is petite and lovely, and succeeds in capturing both the ungainly brashness and unbridled zaniness of the character. Her line delivery is quite good, from salty wisecracks to words of cooing affection and explosive anger. The actress even emulates the awkward Brice pigeon-toed stance and the infectious asides.
The robust and melodic score by composer Jule Styne and lyricist Bob Merrill — which was largely dismissed by the press when the show premiered in 1964 — has endured handsomely. While “People” and “Don’t Rain on My Parade” have become fixed standards in the Streisand songbook, Kritzer manages to bring a fresh, less strident clarity to them. She also delivers “The Music That Makes Me Dance” with torchy grandeur.
Paper Mill Playhouse, Millburn, N.J.; 1,200 seats, $60
A Paper Mill Playhouse presentation of a musical in two acts. Music by Jule Styne. Lyrics by Bob Merrill. Book by Isobel Lennart. Directed by Robert Johanson.
Choreography, Michael Lichtefeld. set, Michael Anania; costumes, David Murin; lighting, Mark Stanley; sound, Duncan Robert Edwards and David F. Shapiro, musical director, Tom Helm, stage manager, Nevin Hedley. Artistic director, Johanson. Opened and reviewed Apr. 6. Running time: 2 HOURS, 35 MIN.
With: Leslie Kritzer, Steven Bogard, Lori Alexander, Diane J. Findlay, Marie Lillo, Sandy Rosenberg, Marian Steiner, Ray Friedeck, Robert Creighton, Matt Lashey, Mark MacKay Lusk, Mia Price, Nicole Batalias, Robert Cuccioli, Bob Dorian, Jean Marie, Christopher Pucci, Drew Taylor, Anthony Frisina, Susan Paige Henderson. Hayes Bergman, Keith Coughlin, Jennifer Clippinger Dudik, Jaclyn Ford, Melissa Hillmer, Tari Kelly, Katie Rayle, Michael Tailor, Adriene Thorne.
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