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'Funny Girl' at Playhouse Square review: McCrimmon impresses

During an interview in advance of the three-week engagement of the First National Tour of “Funny Girl” at Playhouse Square in Clevelandthe show's tap coordinator, Ayodele Casel, talked up the production's star, Katerina McCrimmon, who plays theater star Fanny Brice, calling her a terrific singer with something “very classic” about her voice.

She wasn't just saying that.

'Funny Girl' dancing in Playhouse Square for three weeks of fancy feet

Throughout this revival of the musical that debuted on Broadway in 1964, McCrimmon greatly impresses, not just in terms of her vocals but of her comic timing and delivery — crucial for a portrayal of Brice, famous for her work in the “Ziegfeld Follies” in the first part of the 20th century. McCrimmon misfires on the occasional line, but she scores a ton of laughs in a role most associated with Barbra Streisand, who starred in the 1968 movie based on the musical after portraying Fanny on Broadway.

Other than McCrimmon, though, this show is rather whelming — neither over nor under — with, for the most part, solid but unspectacular work by the rest of the cast and set design that, by current standards, is mediocre. It's not all hard to see why the Broadway production didn't exactly clean up at the Tony Awards last year, with the show's lone win going to Jared Grimes for Best Featured Actor in a Musical.

What this show — directed by Michael Mayer (“Spring Awakening,” “Thoroughly Modern Millie”) — has in abundance is old-fashioned charm, and that goes a fairly long way.

It also holds it down at times, when you wish the show had a faster pulse, starting with the “Overture.” Lovely enough as performed by four touring musicians and a handful of local musicians, the show's first movements have you staring at a curtain for a bit too long.

This is a good place to acknowledge that we simply do not love the songs of “Funny Girl” overall. Written by July Styne (music) and Bob Merrill (lyrics), beloved numbers such as “I'm the Greatest Star,” “People,” “Don't Rain on My Parade” and others just don't do much for us . (Sorry.)

That said, McCrimmon is so compelling — saving her best for last, with fantastic performances of “The Music That Makes Me Dance” and “Finale,” that you need not adore all these tunes to find enjoyment in them via this tour. (Note that the program says Hannah Shankman will inhabit Fanny during certain performances.)

If your “Funny Girl” experience is limited to the film, which also stars Omar Sharif, know that the narrative in this show is largely similar. However, it's a bit easier for Fanny — a girl from Henry Street in New York City who fancies herself as talented or more as other women performing on stage but not as pretty as them — to climb to stardom in the stage show.

She gets some help from a dashing stranger, Nick Arnstein (Stephen Mark Lukas), who, after seeing her perform early on in her career, bluffs her into a big weekly paycheck from her boss. When Fanny learns he isn't actually representing a competing company looking for standout talent, she asks what if his plan didn't work.

“I was willing to take that chance,” he says cooly.

Nick oozes charm and is, as Fanny makes clear in no uncertain terms, “gorgeous!” He's also clearly troubled, a man who makes his money gambling — or enough of it to invest in racehorses, casinos and oil assets.

Henry Street celebrates Fanny, played by Katerina McCrimmon, in a scene the First National Tour of “Funny Girl.” (Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade)

His courting of Fanny is fun, starting with a venture with her into the heart of her neighborhood, a loving place but one where everyone knows everyone else's business, and culminating in a night together (“You Are Woman, I Am Man”) after a fancy dinner during which she has no idea while listening to Nick order for them in French that the roast beef and potatoes she would have chosen are on the way.

Stephen Mark Lukas performs a funny moment as Nick Arnstein in the First National Tour of “Funny Girl.” (Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade)

“Funny Girl” is decidedly less fun after that, as the years pass and Nick struggles to live in his famous wife's shadow and grows frustrated when he can't keep up with her in terms of earnings.

Fanny has plenty of people with her best interests at heart, including her mother (portrayed in a recent performance by Barbara Tirrell), who worries her daughter is making the same mistake she once made; her boss, Florenz Ziegfeld (Walter Coppage), who is driven nuts by the difficult Fanny even as she wows audiences in his shows; and choreographer Eddie Ryan (Izaiah Montaque Harris), her champion from the beginning — and friend-zoned not long after that by Fanny, who wants to keep things professional.

Katerina McCrimmon and Izaiah Montaque Harris, as Fanny Brice and Eddy Ryan, perform in the First National Tour of “Funny Girl.” (Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade)

Speaking of Harris, he is responsible for the biggest of the show's handful of moments that required the work of Casel, shining in a first-act tap showcase during which he plays to the crowd. (By the way, it is for his performance in the role of Eddie that Grimes won the aforementioned Tony.)

Speaking of playing to the crowd, “Funny Girl” fires a couple of little barbs at Cleveland as one of Fanny's touring company has arrived at a train station to leave The Land.

Not sure you're a good enough show for that behavior “Funny Girl,” but, luckily for you, we do know how to laugh at ourselves.

'Funny Girl'

Continues through March 10 at Playhouse Square's Connor Palace in Cleveland. For tickets, $25 to $115, visit PlayhouseSquare.org or call 216-241-6000.

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Written by ezzeddif

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