Thursday, May 24, 2012

REVIEW: ‘Fanny Brice: America’s Funny Girl’ at Asolo Repertory Theatre in Sarasota

Fanny Brice must have been a special women.

The kind you would have wanted to see on stage, screen, hear on the radio, and, if real fortunate, have at your table for conversation.

While most attendees will be familiar with her from the Barbra Streisand vehicles “Funny Girl” and “Funny Lady,” the new biographical musical by writer and director David Bell, which opened Wednesday at Asolo Repertory Theatre, offers a more intimate look at the legendary performer.

Titled “Fanny Brice: America’s Funny Girl,” it’s a warm, humorous and highly entertaining portrayal of the gifted comedienne, singer and actor who, despite all her success, never seemed to land in the arms of a good man.

A reworking of Maltz Jupiter Theatre’s 2009 hit show “Fanny Brice: The Real Funny Girl,” the Sarasota production finds Marya Grandy in the title role she originated delivering a tour de force performance.

She’s accompanied by three actors — Stef Tovar, Lance Baker and Norm Boucher —who play the numerous men in her life extremely well.

The story takes place in 1936, backstage where Brice’s husband, lyricist/producer Billy Rose, just had another flop.

He wants his wife to write an autobiographical screenplay for a film he already sold to a major Hollywood studio.

“I’m not telling my life story just to be humiliated by the truth,” she snaps.

But Brice goes through with it anyway, telling her tale to a writer hired by Rose.

It’s a simple but smart way to flashback, often with the help of black and white film clips, to several key points in her life from 1910 to 1936.

We meet people such as Broadway impresario Florenz “Flo” Ziegfeld, who gave Brice a spot in his famed “Ziegfeld Follies,” songwriting great Irving Berlin, her con man husband Julius “Nicky” Arnstein and Brice’s hilarious character Baby Snooks.

The scenes are well written and finely acted, offering just the right mix of levity and pathos but it’s the judiciously selected and sequenced songs that carry the show.

From the Berlin novelty number “Cohan Owes Me Ninety-Seven Dollars,” which elicits laughs in Act I, to the closing torch song “My Man,” Grandy dazzles.

Details: Through June 17, Asolo Repertory’s Mertz Theatre, 5555 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. Tickets: $27-$71. Information: 941-351-8000 or

—Photo of Marya Grandy as Fanny Brice by MyUnionHouse/Asolo Rep.

No comments: