Rising Above: FUNNY GIRL

Shoshana Bean is Fanny Brice, Photo © Paul Lyden

Shoshana Bean is Fanny Brice, Photo © Paul Lyden

Presented by North Shore Music Theatre
Book by by Isobel Lennart (from an original story penned by Lennart)
Composed by Jule Styne
Lyrics by Bob Merrill
Directed and choreographed by James Brennan
Music directed by Mark Hartman

June 7 – 19, 2016
62 Dunham Road
Beverly, MA 01915
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Review by Kate Idlebrook

I walked away from a showing of Funny Girl not at all a fan of the script, but a great fan of the production at the North Shore Music Theatre. 

Shoshana Bean plays Fanny Brice, a young actress who is not pretty enough to make it in show business…but goes on to do just that. Despite being told to give up, Fanny believes her skill will trump over her looks, and Bean is talented enough to make us believe it.

Still, there isn’t enough tension to make this play anything other than a showcase for its lead.

Throughout the first act everyone is flying so high on success. By the time some conflict does present itself just after intermission, it’s too little too late. I found myself wondering if I had been terribly wrong about the harsh realities of show business, or if Fanny Brice’s luck was without measure.

Bean brings so much energy and conviction to her character that you can’t help but nod along in agreement as she loudly proclaims, “I’m the greatest star!” But what really makes her performance stand out is the strength of her voice. It carries you along as the first act progresses. As Fanny’s star rises smoothly to new heights, she even manages to attract the attention of love interest Nick Arnstein, a conflicted gambler played by Bradley Dean. While the character of Arnstein is paper-thin, Dean brings enough inner turmoil to make Arnstein engaging to watch on stage, if not believable.

The show is directed by James Brennan and the sound design is overseen by Charles Coes. The two take full advantage of the musical and acting talents of the cast, bringing out the best in them. The musical numbers are also well modulated.

Funny Girl is reminiscent of the Guys and Dolls era of stage shows, complete with the same level of melodrama, but with less flash. The difference is that Guys and Dolls has the decency to laugh at itself, but Funny Girl  earnestly defends its importance like a toddler complaining that you cut his sandwich the wrong way.

While I had many qualms with the script, and I wish the play took itself a little less seriously, this production’s execution rose high above the source material, and I left the theater smiling and looking forward to the next North Shore production.

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