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Production solid, but only so much can be done with 'Funny Girl'
By Barbara Vitello | Daily Herald Staff

Sara Sheperd stars as Fanny Brice in Drury Lane Oak Brook Theatre's revival of "Funny Girl."

 

The charismatic Nick Arnstein (Paul Anthony Stewart) romances the dynamic, determined Fanny Brice (Sara Sheperd) in "Funny Girl" in a revival at Drury Lane Theatre Oak Brook.

 

Best friend and confidant Eddie Ryan (Jameson Cooper) confronts Fanny (Sara Sheperd) about her troubled relationship with Nick in Drury Lane Theatre Oak Brook's "Funny Girl."

 

Showgirls celebrate the cornet man in "Funny Girl," the Jule Styne-Bob Merrill musical inspired by the life of comedienne and Ziegfeld Follies star Fanny Brice.

 

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Published: 1/14/201 12:02 AM | Updated: 1/19/2010 12:56 PM

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"Funny Girl"

Two and a half stars

Location: Drury Lane Oak Brook Theatre, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace, (630) 530-0111 or drurylaneoakbrook.com

Showtimes: 1:30 p.m. Wednesdays; 1:30 and 8 p.m. Thursdays; 8:30 p.m. Fridays; 5 and 8:30 p.m. Saturdays; 2 and 6 p.m. Sundays through March 7

Running time: About two hours, 30 minutes with intermission

Tickets: $29-$38, dinners range from $43.75-$61

Parking: Free lot adjacent to theater, valet parking available

Rating: For teens and older

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There's a reason why "Funny Girl" - the fictionalized account of the ascent of comedienne, singer and Ziegfeld Follies star Fanny Brice - doesn't get many revivals. And only part of it has to do with the indelible impression left by Barbra Streisand, who originated the titular role in Jule Styne and Bob Merrill's 1964 musical and won an Oscar for her performance in the 1968 film version.

Newcomer Sara Sheperd plays the indomitable Brice in Drury Lane Theatre Oak Brook's production, and her great pipes and solid comedic chops make her a fine "shepherd" for this solid revival conceived by Gary Griffin and William Osetek and directed by Osetek, assisted by associate director David New.

Aside from the big shoes the lead actress must fill, there's another problem with this second-tier show. It's powered by an agreeable score that boasts powerhouse tunes like "Don't Rain On My Parade," the gleefully insistent "I'm the Greatest Star," and "People," the iconic tune that benefits from Sheperd's nicely understated performance. Unfortunately, writer Isobel Lennart saddles "Funny Girl" with an uneven, indecisive book. Lennart wants us to admire the determination and talent that propels Fanny to the top even as we applaud her for abandoning her fame and hard-won respect to chase Nick Arnstein (Paul Anthony Stewart), the handsome gambler who marries her and ultimately breaks her heart. We're supposed to sympathize with the unlucky Nick and his wounded pride, and chide Fanny, who has unwittingly emasculated him through her money and fame.

It makes you wish Lennart had picked a point of view and stuck with it. The uncomfortable 1960s anachronisms (the suggestion that Fanny's success contributes to Nick's failure rather than his own flawed character) date the show. And yet the finale with its spirited reprise of "Don't Rain On My Parade," remains empowering.

Except that Sheperd's vigor doesn't extend to the relationship between her and Stewart, which felt lukewarm even during their sly, seductive duet, "You Are Woman, I Am Man." That said, Catherine Smitko generated sparks with her wry turn as Fanny's sassy mother as did Jameson Cooper's performance as the ever-loyal, always honest Eddie and Marc Grapey's nicely deadpan Flo Ziegfeld.

The story unfolds as a flashback on Jack Magaw's unencumbered set dominated by a stage door set into a brick wall, and a cluttered dressing room. As a visual testament to a woman whose most satisfying moments happen onstage, the set works.

However, the underwhelming, Follies-style production numbers could use some of the glitz Drury Lane lavished on 2008's "Mame." So could the drab, Doughboy-inspired costumes from "Rat-Tat-Tat-Tat."

Yet Drury Lane's well-sung, enthusiastically danced "Funny Girl" has its charms.

The pert, swinging "Sadie, Sadie" showcases Matt Raftery's fresh youthful choreography. Osetek's lively staging of the clever cautionary tune, "If a Girl Isn't Pretty," is thoroughly enjoyable, and his young star has the poise and power of a seasoned leading lady. All of which adds up to a competent production, but not an electrifying one. Then again, "Funny Girl" never really had that kind of wattage.