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by Michael Portantiere

The Funny Girl Has Three Faces

  • Steven Brinberg as Barbra Streisand

    The Funny Girl Has Three Faces

    Steven Brinberg has been acclaimed for his performances as Barbra Streisand in major concert venues, nightclubs, and theaters in New York and throughout the U.S., as well as abroad. Of course, he has sung many songs from Funny Girl over the years, but only now is he being given the chance to play the signature Streisand role of Fanny Brice in a production of the entire show -- which is kind of like a pianist who has mastered the Rachmaninoff preludes finally getting a professional shot at the Concerto No. 2 in C minor.

    The date and time: Saturday, July 11 at 8pm. The place: The Paramount Theater in Asbury Park, New Jersey. Be there to see Brinberg as Streisand as Brice. The cast of ReVision Theatre's staged concert presentation of the Jule Styne-Bob Merrill-Isobel Lennart musical also includes Broadway veterans Grant Norman as Nick Arnstein, Loni Ackerman as Mrs. Brice, Harvey Evans as Florenz Ziegfeld, Gene Castle as Mr. Keeney, and Lainie Kazan -- who understudied Streisand in the Broadway production and famously went on for her only once -- in a special guest appearance. I recently spoke with Steven about this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.


    BROADWAYSTARS: How great that you're getting to do all of Funny Girl. Are you very familiar with the stage version?

    STEVEN BRINBERG: Not really. I've only seen the show a couple of times, but I grew up watching the movie and listening to the soundtrack. Our production should be really interesting for people who only know the movie, because there are so many differences. The show has lots of numbers that give opportunities for the chorus and the dancers: "Cornet Man," "Rat-Tat-Tat-Tat," "Henry Street." One of my favorite numbers that's not in the movie is "I Want to Be Seen With You," the first duet between Fanny and Nick Arnstein. But I also love the ballads, "Who Are You Now?" and "The Music That Makes Me Dance."

    STARS: Are you sorry that those songs aren't in the film?

    SB: Well, they typically cut some songs when they make a movie of a Broadway show. Funny Girl was long enough as it is, plus they added "My Man" and a few other numbers. You know, if you listen close when you watch the movie, you can hear at least two of the cut songs used as background music: "I Want to Be Seen With You" and "Henry Street."

    STARS: I know there was originally going to be a comic roller-skating number in the show, which is why the logo art is an upside-down figure of a girl on skates. But the number was cut and they used a different song, "The Roller-Skate Rag," for that slot in the movie.

    SB: The song they wrote for the show was called "I Did It on Roller Skates." There were so many changes to the score before they got to opening night on Broadway. Marvin Hamlisch, who was the rehearsal pianist, told me it was very common for a song to be in for one performance and out the next. There was a Baby Snooks number called "Why Are the Girls Different From the Boys?" And, of course, "Absent Minded Me," which Barbra recorded for the People album.

    Barbra Streisand in the Broadway production of FUNNY GIRL

    STARS: Though the part of Fanny is almost completely identified with Streisand, quite a few other women have played it over the years in regional, stock, and touring productions. Isn't that right?

    SB: Sure. Barbara Cook did the show with George Hamilton in the late '60s at Westbury Music Fair. Marilyn Michaels and Carol Lawrence did it on tour, and later there were productions with Pia Zadora, Debbie Gibson, and Ana Gasteyer. I saw the show at Equity Library Theatre, with a woman named Carol Schweid -- she actually looked a lot like Fanny Brice, I remember that -- and at Paper Mill, with Leslie Kritzer. And I recently saw a production at Westchester Broadway Theatre, with Jill Abramovitz as Fannie and Grant Norman as Nick.

    STARS: As Barbara Cook has said herself, she was an odd choice for the part in terms of her look and ethnicity. I know you've worked with her; did the two of you discuss her experience playing Fanny?

    SB: Yes. She told me about a friend of hers who really loved her in the show. Then he went to see the movie, and he said he thought Streisand was too Jewish for the part!

    STARS: I'm sure you'll bring your own spin to it.

    SB: Well, I think the layers of gender-blind casting will make it really interesting. For instance, in "Rat-Tat-Tat-Tat," I'll be a man playing a woman playing a man.

    STARS: I understand this is going to be a staged concert presentation, sort of like Encores!

    SB: Yes. We're going to have a 14-piece orchestra, and the numbers will be fully staged and choreographed, but I think we'll be holding scripts for the book scenes. I hope so; it's a lot of lines! I'm thrilled that we're doing the show in the fabulous old Paramount Theatre. Maybe I should make my first entrance through the house, like Barbra does in the movie?


    [For more information about the ReVision Theatre production of Funny Girl, or to purchase tickets, visit www.ReVisionTheatre.org or call 732-455-3059.]

    Published on Friday, July 3, 2009

    Michael Portantiere has more than 30 years' experience as an editor and writer for TheaterMania.com, InTHEATER magazine, and BACK STAGE. He has interviewed theater notables for NPR.org, PLAYBILL, STAGEBILL, and OPERA NEWS, and has written notes for several cast albums. Michael is co-author of FORBIDDEN BROADWAY: BEHIND THE MYLAR CURTAIN, published in 2008 by Hal Leonard/Applause. Additionally, he is a professional photographer whose pictures have been published by THE NEW YORK TIMES, the DAILY NEWS, and several major websites. (Visit www.followspotphoto.com for more information.) He can be reached at [email protected]

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