Corn Stock Theatre opens its summer season with the musical “Funny Girl.” Stan Strickler has this review for Peoria Public Radio and the Live Theatre League of Peoria. Opinions expressed are those of the reviewer, not those of Peoria Public Radio or the Live Theatre League.
When I was a young man I used to listen to the original cast album of “Funny Girl” until I almost wore a hole through the record. I had memorized most of the songs and I associated them with Barbra Streissand, the original star of the show. Whenever a show is so known for an iconic star, one wonders if other actors can ever fulfill the role as well. However, Katie McLuckie, starring in Corn Stock’s production, does an admirable job of bringing the musical to life.
“Funny Girl” tells the story, somewhat fictionalized, of the early years of Fanny Brice. As a young girl, she dreams of stardom on Broadway in the Ziegfeld Follies. She takes a part in a minor stage production where she meets and falls in love with Nick Arnstein whom she later marries. Eventually Nick feels trapped in his marriage because his business deals have fallen through, and he is ashamed of living off his wife’s considerable earnings. He gets involved in a shady bond deal and is sent to prison. The play is told in flashback, and opens as Fanny is awaiting the appearance of Nick who has just been released from prison.
Katie McLuckie is a standout in the part of Fanny Brice. She connects to the material emotionally and really sells a song, especially “Don’t Rain on My Parade” and “The Music that Makes Me Dance.” They were sung with conviction and power that were quite emotional. I was most impressed that Katie chose not to channel Barbra Striessand in her performance. She brought her own talents to the role. Cheri Beever as Fanny’s mother, the typical proud stage mother was also a standout. She was especially good in “If a Girl Isn’t Pretty “ and “Who Taught her Everything She Knows”
If there is any criticism of the acting, it is that the two men are not up to the same level. Trevor Neff as Eddie has a nice stage presence, but we don’t really get the feeling that he has unrequited love for Fanny as the script suggests. Aaron Humphreys as Nick does not seem to connect emotionally with the material especially in the final scene as he says goodbye to Fanny. He seems to have no regret and it is a little difficult to believe that Fanny and he were truly in love. Both men had some slight pitch problems in the opening of their songs, but they quickly righted themselves.
The most outstanding male singer in the show was Rusty Brost as the Ziegfeld tenor. He has a strong voice, and makes the song “His Love Makes Me Beautiful” a truly memorable one. I wish that his part had been bigger as I would have liked to see him sing some of the more emotional songs in the show. Also outstanding were the two solo dancers , Austin Coleman and Nicole Barth featured in “The Music that Makes me Dance.” They added a beautiful touch to this very emotional song.
Choreography by Erica Franken was quite good, but at times on opening night it seemed that some of the male dancers were still not quite sure of themselves. I am sure that their performances will improve over time. The orchestra conducted by Gina Wright was good, and it is always a treat to hear live musicians, rather than taped scores. Costumes recreated the times quite well. Although the set was not elaborate, it allowed for quick changes and was quite serviceable.
All in the all the show was a success and certainly worth the time to see and enjoy on a pleasant summer evening.
“Funny Girl” continues through Saturday, with performances at 7:30 p.m. at Corn Stock Theatre. Tickets, and more information, are available at 676-2196, or cornstocktheatre.com.