In baseball, whenever a pitcher becomes tired and ineffective, a new pitcher known as a reliever succeeds him, in order to prevent further damage. The one who does this most consistently will at the end of the season receive an award called “Reliever of the Year.”
We don’t have such a prize on Broadway, but if we did, is there any doubt that this season it would go to Lea Michele? She’s transformed FUNNY GIRL from a musical that seemed ready to close on any given Sunday to one of the hottest tickets in town.
If you can’t get to the August Wilson Theatre – or even if you can – there’s the revival cast recording of FUNNY GIRL that shows why this new Fanny Brice has saved the show.
Just listen to her in the musical’s three most famous songs.
“I’m the Greatest Star” needs someone who can make you believe she is. Now it has.
Her “Don’t Rain on My Parade” shows anger, determination and confidence. After hearing Michele, no one would even dare approach her with a plant mister, let alone rain.
And “People” – the song that originally peaked at No. 4 on Variety’s singles chart in the spring of 1964 when so many of the slots above and below it were taken by The Beatles – gets Michele’s soulful and far more extensive rendition than was heard on the original cast album.
Most people cite GYPSY as the greatest overture of all time, but FUNNY GIRL – with music by Jule Styne, who composed both shows – rivals (and, some believe, surpasses) it. Those who only know the 1968 film soundtrack may be surprised to hear a different song early in that overture. Instead of “Funny Girl,” it’s “The Music That Makes Me Dance,” which was Fanny’s final statement on Nick Arnstein in the 1964 stage show. In the film, “My Man,” Fanny’s trademark song, supplanted it.
However, when Fanny sings “Funny Girl” late in the film, it pretty much occupies the spot that “Who Are You Now” had in the stage show. That song, too, was jettisoned in the film. Now, on the revival cast album, you’ll hear it more than once, not just sung by Michele, but by the Nick Arnstein of Ramin Karimloo.
“Who Are You Now” never received its just due. The last line alone is a haunting one: “Are you someone better for my love?” Take that, those who feel that Bob Merrill’s lyrics aren’t so good. He endured much criticism for a line in “If a Girl Isn’t Pretty”: “Kid, my heart ain’t made of marble, but your rhythm’s really har’ble.” As ANNIE lyricist Martin Charnin often observed, “Critics will take your worst rhyme, quote it and claim that it’s representative of all your other lyrics in the show.”
It won’t happen on this new cast album any more than it occurred in the film. Both dropped the “marble/har’ble” couplet.
Bookwriter Harvey Fierstein came up with an excellent idea for the section in “If a Girl Isn’t Pretty” where Fanny is reminded that she’s lacking in looks. Although her good friend Eddie Ryan originally told her the truth out of a type of tough love, now Mr. Keeney, the owner of the vaudeville theater, is brutally frank with her. He indeed would be, considering that he always hires a bevy of beauties; thus, Fanny is wasting his time. Listen, though, to how Michele won’t take no for a syllable, let alone an answer.
You may hunger to hear what Michele would have done with “My Man,” but “The Music That Makes Me Dance” is truly superior to that classic. Michele’s unapologetic attitude brings to mind two lines in a ballad that the world would come to know in 1975: “We did what we had to do … What I did for love.”
The loss of “The Music That Makes Me Dance” is just one instance of the criminal amount of the excellent Styne and Merrill stage score that was amputated from the movie. This revival cast album is your chance to experience what you missed, for every song but “Find Yourself a Man,” the advice that Rose gets from her friends, has been restored.
“Cornet Man” is a real razzmatazz-er that Fanny does get to sing at Keeney’s. Owners of the 1964 stereo version of the original cast album won’t catch the in-joke that those who only bought the monaural version would. Because that was the last song recorded, Barbra Streisand added a quip about finally going home that wasn’t on the stereo recording. Michele does it, too.
“Henry Street,” where Fanny lives, is what Ethan Mordden calls “a Bowery waltz” – meaning one that’s less elegant than the waltz named for the blue Danube. You hear it as background music in the film, but that’s the extent of it. Here, it gets a more generous cut than it received on the original cast album, for there’s plenty of dance music included.
That’s the greatest asset of today’s technology: so much more music can be accommodated than was the case on so-called long-playing records. How great that a more generous amount of dance music enhances so many of the songs. If you’re the type of person that Ken Bloom mentioned in Broadway Musicals: The 101 Greatest Shows of All Time – one who can be found “standing in your living room in your BVDs, waving your arms like a madman as you conduct,” you probably dance, too. This FUNNY GIRL will give you many opportunities to lose a few pounds.
If you tap, so much the better, for there’s plenty of it as you’d expect in another song that will be new to filmgoers: “Rat-Tat-Tat-Tat.” Long before that, though, we get “Eddie’s Tap,” an instrumental showcase for Tony nominee Jared Grimes. He’ll tap your troubles away.
The film also lamentably excised Nick and Fanny’s exuberant “I Want to Be Seen with You.” Thanks to orchestrator Ralph Burns, it has one of the best ride-outs you could ever hope to hear.
(Don’t know the term? A ride-out is what the orchestra plays at the end of the song while the singers finish up. Listen and see if you don’t agree that this one is a honey.)
Karimloo does such a better job with this song and his others than Sydney Chaplin did in the original production. At the time, Time Magazine said that Chaplin sounded like a clock winding down that would soon be broken.
(Clearly, Styne didn’t agree. He had previously approved Chaplin as the leading man of his BELLS ARE RINGING in 1956 and SUBWAYS ARE FOR SLEEPING in 1961. And to be fair, Chaplin did win a Tony for BELLS, even besting Stanley Holloway in MY FAIR LADY. However, that might have been due to his role being substantially bigger and yet in the supporting category, when his under-the-title billing decreed where he should be.)
Karimloo is so strong and debonair a presence that director Michael Mayer and others thought he should also have “A Temporary Arrangement,” a song that had been dropped during the first week of the original Boston tryout. Truth to tell, Karimloo made little impression with it early in the run, but from all reports, he’s been energized by Michele and now the song is finally surprisingly effective. You’d swear from Karimloo’s recording that the song has always been an integral part of the score and was never discarded.
And if there were an award for Supporting Reliever of the Year, Tovah Feldshuh, portraying Fanny’s mother Rose, would win the prize. How funny she and Grimes are when expressing their fears that Fanny’s getting hired by the Ziegfeld Follies will result in her leaving them behind, despite the fact that they “taught her everything she knows.” The song has been moved to Act Two, where it isn’t as effective; if Fanny hasn’t dropped them by now, she never will. However, FUNNY GIRL does have a lengthy Act One, and repositioning it may have had more to do with that. Whatever the case, it’s welcome on the recording.
A bit of trivia: the film’s title song was not the first “Funny Girl” that Styne and Merrill wrote. In early 1964, they penned an up-tempo ditty with music and lyrics that bear no relationship to the pensive song in the movie. It began with a jaunty “A fella loves to be with a funny girl” and ended with a slowed-down melody and observation that “even funny girls can cry.”
It’s a terrific song, and wouldn’t it have been great to have it in this revival and on this cast album? As Fanny learns in FUNNY GIRL, you can’t have everything. But we can be grateful for what we do get on this remarkable recording.
Peter Filichia can be heard most weeks of the year on www.broadwayradio.com. His new book – THE BOOK OF BROADWAY MUSICAL DEBATES, DISPUTES, AND DISAGREEMENTS – is now available on Amazon. See him do his one-man show PETE’s THEATRICAL ADVENTURES for free on Feb. 19 and 26 at 4 p.m. at Theatre 555 at 555 West 42nd Street; make a reservation at [email protected]