Funny Girl (directed Peter Hinton, book by Isobel Lennart, music by Jule Styne, and lyrics by Bob Merrill) is the biggest show that I have seen in Montreal apart from Shakespeare. There were eighteen singing and dancing and projecting performers on stage and then there was an orchestra, cleverly set in cage like spaces on opposite sides of the stage. Upstage, on the black wall at the back of the performance space was a ghost like photo of Fanny Brice, and that was a stroke of genius it kept the audience mindful of the essence of this show. It is an homage to one of the most innovative and talented performers of vaudeville and Broadway. The casting was inspired; Gabi Epstein was flawless as Fanny and her singing dancing and comic timing were a match for anything on Broadway. She had a vulnerability and innocence that may have been the most authentic Brice ever.
Corrine Koslo was pitch perfect as Fanny’s tough mama. John Ullyatt played a delightful Nicky Arnstein and was terrific in the dramatic scenes, giving them just the right balance of tension and humour. Lorne Kennedy gave a very convincing performance as the intractable Florenz Ziegfeld and he sang beautifully. Danette Mackay shone in the ensemble and Felicia Shulman was terrific as card shark and mother of the famous “Sadie”. Kyle Golemba gave a delightful performance as “Eddy” the dance master and confident. Chris Barillaro was spectacular in a number of roles and one only wished he had more, as he is Montreal’s most accomplished musical man.
Peter Hinton, who has directed at Stratford and Shaw and across Canada as well as run National Art Centre’s English theatre program, accomplished something of a miracle. Not only did he direct a spectacular Funny Girl, he managed to use the entire (most awkward) stage at the Segal in a delightful and innovative manner. The moving shelving units created unique acting areas but maintained throughout the essence of a “backstage” ambiance. The placing of the actors in dressing room cages enhanced the impression of the plight of performers, and their lack of power which gave Fanny’s triumph even more drama.
Before the performance I worried about it’s relationship with the film version; so powerfully delivered by Streisand, but the minute Epstein took the stage in her first song, I felt this was going to be special and in no way less compelling. In many ways the intimacy of the theatre and the beautifully nuanced performance of the star made this an astonishingly moving show, better perhaps than any film could hope to be. It takes the magic touch of a Hinton the delightful costume design, and brilliant set of Michael Gianfrancesco, and the inimitable performance of Epstein and the terrific ensemble to do proper homage to Fanny Brice.
Funny girl is at the Segal Centre (5170 Cote Ste Catherine Rd.) until November 8. Tickets and showtimes are HERE. $50 and up.