It’s hard to compete with Streisand. And though all of the critics give Beanie Feldstein accolades for her effort, they universally find that her child-like, strained and physical comedy-reliant performance doesn’t live up to the original, nor does it make up for the mostly lackluster score (with the exceptions of a couple notable songs) and terrible, episodic script (that Harvey Fierstein’s doctoring did not help at all). Director Michael Mayer simply did not tap the right people or figure out the right approach to make this show work. And ultimately, is this musical worth reviving at all without a Streisand at the helm?
New York Times Review of Funny Girl
[T]he show developed, coiling itself around Streisand’s offbeat, aggressive, once-in-a-lifetime talent…[a]nd without a stupendous Fanny to thrill and distract, the musical’s manifold faults become painfully evident. … To rip the bandage off quickly: Feldstein is not stupendous. She’s good. She’s funny enough in places, and immensely likable always. … You root for her to raise the roof, but she only bumps against it a little. Her voice, though solid and sweet and clear, is not well suited to the music, and you feel her working as hard as she can to power through the gap. But working hard at what should be naturally extraordinary is not in Fanny’s DNA. … Still, you can’t blame Feldstein for the show’s problems; that would be like blaming the clown for the elephants. The main elephant is the book, written by Isobel Lennart and fiddled with for this production by Harvey Fierstein, to no avail. … But Mayer’s staging, which at times seems to aim for the ghostly nostalgia of “Follies,” feels lumbering and underfunded, with cheap-looking sets (by David Zinn), a cast of 22 in place of the original 43 and wan new orchestrations for 14 players, based on the glorious originals by Ralph Burns for 25. (You’re going to sell me “People” with two violins?) Only the aptly gaudy costumes by Susan Hilferty suggest the Ziegfeldian overabundance that shows like “Funny Girl” were designed to purvey. … This could all have been predicted; over the years, many revivals have been attempted and defeated because the thing a revival is trying to revive is not to be found in the property itself. It’s in the personality of the necessary star: someone not nice but inevitable, not diligent but explosive, not well-rounded but weird.
TimeOut Review of Funny Girl
The rain clouds gather early over the misplaced-pride parade that is the Broadway revival of Funny Girl. The audience is primed for a boffo old-fashioned musical comedy, which this production promises. Even before the curtain—which itself depicts a curtain!—goes up, the audience claps at the overture’s most famous songs; when Beanie Feldstein makes her first appearance as Ziegfeld Follies comedian Fanny Brice, stares into an invisible mirror and delivers her famous opening self-affirmation (”Hello, gorgeous!”), the crowd goes wild. But then she starts to sing. It is unfair, but unavoidable, to compare Feldstein to Funny Girl’s original leading lady, Barbra Streisand, who was not only a fresh comic talent at the time but also one of the greatest vocalists in Broadway history. But there’s a reason Funny Girl hasn’t been revived since its original run in the early 1960s: Despite several memorable songs (with first-rate tunes by Jule Styne and second-rate lyrics by Bob Merrill), there’s not much to the story. … Isobel Lennart’s book has been rewritten for this production by Harvey Fierstein, but it still feels episodic and superficial. To cover its holes, this musical requires a star who really has the goods. What Feldstein has is the okays. … Under Michael Mayer’s forcibly old-timey direction, nearly all the actors push too hard. … This revival has its pleasures, notably in the dancing: As Fanny’s hapless would-be suitor, Jared Grimes tap-dances up a few brief storms, and the chorus, festooned in wittily over-the-top costumes and headdresses, delivers the show’s Follies pastiche numbers with aplomb. … It’s also an attractive production, thanks to Kevin Adams’s lighting, Susan Hilferty’s marvelous costumes—Feldstein looks fab throughout—and David Zinn’s well-imagined set… But you know a production of Funny Girl hasn’t clicked when you leave thinking, Well, at least it was pretty.
Hollywood Reporter Review of Funny Girl
The 1964 Fanny Brice bio-musical is finally back almost 60 years after it first premiered, with a perky and appealing Beanie Feldstein in the lead. Still, there’s no escaping the indelible imprint of original star Barbra Streisand. … But she has a lovely, light singing voice in a part that often calls for big-belt power, and she reads girlish, never quite selling the consuming hunger that propels Fanny to stardom in the early-1920s Ziegfeld Follies. Feldstein leans hard on the comedy with enormous charm, but she struggles to locate the raw vulnerability of Fanny in later years, as her marriage to inveterate gambler Nick Arnstein (Ramin Karimloo) falls apart. The revival’s shortcomings by no means rest entirely on Feldstein’s shoulders. Neither director Michael Mayer nor script doctor Harvey Fierstein has solved the problems of the creaky book. … The show feels patchy and episodic and it needs a knockout, roof-raising lead to paper over the cracks. … Feldstein gives a spirited, highly enjoyable performance, and her freshness drew squeals of appreciation from what seemed like a large contingent of very vocal young female fans on a recent press night. But she never quite makes the material soar, and this is a rickety vehicle that needs a supernova to put gas in its tank.
Variety Review of Funny Girl
The problem with this uninspired revival of “Funny Girl” — which opened at the August Wilson Theatre on Sunday, marking the show’s Broadway return after nearly 60 years — is not simply the singular ghost of she who shall not be named. (Alright: It’s Barbra Steisand.) Rather, the issue here is the production’s inability to live up to its star-making potential that would have made us once again forgive the simplistic, sentimental and sanitized original book credited to Isobel Lennart. The script, revised by Harvey Fierstein for this production, still fails to come to terms to any great degree with the disconnect in the relationship of Fanny and gambler husband Nicky Arnstein, effortlessly played and stunningly sung by Ramin Karimloo. … But her character — and Feldstein’s performance — never goes far beyond the sentimental, tiresome and not-exactly-of-the-moment cliche of the woman who can’t stop loving her man, even after nearly every character on stage (not to mention the audience) knows it’s doomed. … To make some kind of emotional sense of Fanny’s character calls for an actress of extraordinary charm, maturity and finesse, one who is able to show motivational shadings beyond the limits of the script. Oh, and sing the hell out of the score. Feldstein’s Fanny is a wide-eyed woman-child, at turns stubborn, awkward and silly. Knowingly precocious, Feldstein relies on broad face-making rather than a more nuanced comic skillset. … Still, there’s great affection for the show, mostly due to the recordings and the 1968 hit film, and the production could get an extended life on the road with the right casting. After all, even after that first famous ghost left the original production, the musical still managed to tally a total of 1,348 performances.
New York Post Review of Funny Girl
The audience members at “Funny Girl” are not the luckiest people in the world. They’ve waited a long, long time for the first-ever Broadway revival of the 1964 musical, which opened Sunday night at the August Wilson Theatre. Fifty-eight years! But the mediocrity that salivating Fanny Brice fans are finally laying their eyes on isn’t particularly funny, or well sung, or well designed or well directed. This sorely lacking new production rains on the old musical’s parade. … [Beanie Feldstein] is supposed to steal our hearts and sprain our funny bones. No dice. Ticket-buyers are walking in forgivingly, with an understanding that we don’t expect any Broadway performer to match up to one of the greatest American vocalists of all time. Feldstein, however, barely muddles through the beloved songs. The best performed numbers (“Sadie, Sadie”) are merely capable; the worst (“People”) are awkward letdowns. In the spoken scenes, the jokes are pushed harder than a broken-down Hummer on a highway and few of them earn more than polite giggles. Feldstein is, I’m sorry to say, not giving a Broadway-caliber performance. … That said, the revival could be a whole lot better than the uninvolving stroll that director Michael Mayer has turned it into. High jinks, romance, heartbreak, Brooklyn, Broadway and Monte Carlo are all liquified into a tasteless goo. There’s hardly any variation to be found. Showstoppers don’t stop the show. Fanny and Nick grow on paper, yet they flatline where it counts most — live onstage. … From top to bottom, this “Funny Girl” needed different people.