Until recently, musical comedies were unheard of in France, but now that the Parisians have taken to them like showgirls to glitter, American musical comedies are popping up all over the place. Americans in Paris will open at the Théâtre du Châtelet on November 28, and Funny Girl, directed and choreographed by Stephen Mear, is onstage at the Théâtre Marigny through March 7, 2020.
I have never been a real fan of musical comedies, but I must say I left the theater after Funny Girl feeling uplifted, with a big smile on my face.
Unbeknownst to me (and many others, I suspect), Funny Girl was a 1964 stage production starring Barbra Streisand (with a book by Isobel Lennart, music by Jule Styne, and lyrics by Bob Merrill) before it was a famous 1968 film, also starring Streisand and directed by William Wyler.
The story, partly based on the life of the real-life Ziegfeld Follies star Fanny Brice (1891-51), is the classic upbeat unknown-girl-makes-good-on-Broadway story until it turns dark near the end.
One can’t help expecting to see Streisand onstage, so it was disconcerting at first to see Fanny Brice played by the diminutive New Yorker Christina Bianco, but with her powerful voice, incredible energy and comedic skill, she quickly melded right into the role and won over the audience.
Bianco had an authentic-sounding New York accent and the other cast members – most of them British – acquitted themselves admirably on this score, most notably Shirley Jameson as Fanny’s catty neighbor Mrs. Strakosh. The handsome Ashley Day made a fine Nick Arnstein, Fanny’s not-quite-kosher husband and one true love, and Rachel Stanley also stood out as Fanny’s mother, Mrs. Brice.
The colorful sets and costumes by Peter McKintosh were a pleasure to look at.
Don’t be surprised if you leave the theatre humming one of the musical’s many hit songs, among them “People” and “Don’t Rain on My Parade.”