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Review: She's The Greatest Star!

“Funny Girl,” Ahmanson Theatre, Los Angeles, April 2-28, 2024

April 5, 2024 | By Bruce R. Feldman


In Brief: Thrilling and enormously enjoyable, this grand revival of a neglected gem from the Golden Age of Broadway musicals shines in every way. Katerina McCrimmon dazzles in the leading role. Her triumphant star turn is one for the ages.


Melissa Manchester and Katerina McCrimmon in "Funny Girl." (Photo: Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade)

Melissa Manchester and Katerina McCrimmon in "Funny Girl." (Photo: Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade)

An earthquake hit Southern California Wednesday night. The ground under Los Angeles didn’t shake, but The Ahmanson Theater rocked with thunderous applause and cheering as Katerina McCrimmon’s explosive performance stopped the show a half dozen times, twice during her songs.


The occasion marked the Los Angeles opening of the first Broadway revival of Funny Girl, the hit Jule Styne and Bob Merrill musical that made Barbra Streisand a star 60 years ago. While the production’s biggest numbers – People and Don’t Rain on My Parade – have become standards over the years, the show itself fell into obscurity.


You cannot mount a successful production of Funny Girl without a larger-than-life star. The same is true of Styne’s other big smash of the period, Gypsy. But while Ethel Merman’s performance has never been eclipsed, many stars have been memorable in a series of major New York and London revivals.


It took the seemingly born for-the-role Lea Michele finally to bring Funny Girl back to life in 2022. That was then. If Michele wasn’t going to travel with the show, who could replace her? Or would the hinterlands get yet another lackluster touring production? The joyful news is that this road company is equal to the Broadway presentation in every way, and perhaps even better in one – and that is McCrimmon.

She’s the complete package. She can be gutsy, hilarious, or nuanced, as the moment calls for. In the big numbers she is loud and thrilling in the way that Ethel Merman was or Patti Lupone is, but with greater musicality, tonal quality, and vocal range.


Stephen Mark Lukas as Nick Arnstein in "Funny Girl." (Photo: Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade)

Stephen Mark Lukas as Nick Arnstein in "Funny Girl." (Photo: Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade)

She’s also a terrific comedian, whether singing or tossing off the many jokes and quips in Isobel Lennart’s original book, here updated effectively by Harvey Fierstein. She convincingly essays her character’s emotional journey leading to an electrifying finale.


Is there anything McCrimmon cannot do? I could praise her gifts all day, but she is hardly the only terrific thing in the show. Stephen Mark Lukas is wonderful as Nick Arnstein, persuasively capturing the surface charm and the desperation that lies beneath. Melissa Manchester also is very good as Fanny’s mother, the yenta from Brooklyn. You wouldn’t think that she could pull this off, but she does, and effectively so.


Even the actors in smaller roles and the chorus are way above par. They’re a joy to listen to. This is one of the best sung musicals I have ever heard. Elaine Davidson’s musical direction and dynamic conducting are superb. From the minute she launches into that familiar overture you feel that you are experiencing the best that the Broadway theater has to offer. Chris Walkers’s contemporary arrangements skillfully combine the distinctive sound of Ralph Burns’s originals with new instrumentation that feels fresh but still in sync with Burns’s vision. Alan Williams contributed new dance arrangements that are particularly appealing.

The sets are lavish. David Zinn has given the overall design a mostly two-dimensional look. I assume that’s to reflect to the flat style of early 19th century scene painting. Kevin Adams’s sumptuous lighting appears to be similarly themed in that nearly all the illumination comes from the stage and footlights. There’s no bridge lighting from the audience ceiling and a minimal use of pin spots from the balcony rail, as would have been the case a hundred years ago.


Katerina McCrimmon in "Funny Girl" (Photo Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade)

Katerina McCrimmon in "Funny Girl" (Photo Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade)

The revised book, by Harvey Fierstein, of this updated Funny Girl mostly improves on the original. The most important changes come in the second act. Fierstein amps up the tension between Nick and Fanny. He gives more dimension to Nick’s character by, for example, turning the haunting ballad Who Are You Now? from Fanny’s solo into a duet between the ill-fated lovers. A good call.


He’s changed the order of some of the songs and interpolated two new ones, the title song Funny Girl, written for the movie – it’s a strong addition to the storytelling – and another number for Nick, Temporary Arrangement. This is not a great song, and it feels unnecessary. Likely the creators of the 1964 Broadway production felt the same, as they took it out of the production. It’s also poorly danced. As good a singer and actor as Stephen Mark Lukas is, a hoofer he is not. This is one of just a few minor missteps, none of which diminishes the show’s overall substantial appeal.


Finally, credit director Michael Mayer for bringing all the creative and production elements together with such spectacular and satisfying results. (N.B.: Mayer next directs the new musical Galileo, starring Raul Esparza, at Berkeley Rep starting in May.) Thanks, too, to the tour producers for their painstaking efforts in assembling this stunning production.


Still, while there are many things to admire in this wonderful presentation, it’s the marvelous McCrimmon, as Fanny Brice, who deserves most of the credit for launching this superb production into the stratosphere. She’s reason enough to rush to The Ahmanson. Funny Girl will be here only four weeks.

“Funny Girl,” Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles (213) 628-2772,


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