I’ve been watching American Idol for eight seasons now, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned from the judges, it’s that contestants should stay away from the Big Ones. Sure, maybe you can pull off a KT Tunstall tune, but if you try anything by Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, or Stevie Wonder, you’re going to be compared unfavorably against the original. Some artists you just don’t touch.
With this in mind, when I sat down for last week’s opening-night performance of Funny Girl at the Westchester Broadway Theatre, I almost felt sorry for star Jill Abramovitz. If Whitney Houston is untouchable, what is Barbra Streisand? Abramovitz has to endure that comparison in every second of the show, since she’s in almost every scene and musical number. Really, the show rests on her shoulders.
Fortunately, Abramovitz is more than up to the task. Though she’s prettier than the part requires, her personality is strong and her voice is even stronger. When she worked her way through the show’s biggest songs—including “People” and “Don’t Rain on My Parade”—I’m happy to say that not once did my thoughts drift back to Babs and her like buttah voice. The role of Fanny Brice belonged 100 percent to Abramovitz.
Though the role was completely hers, the production was not—and that’s a good thing, because the cast proved Abramovitz was not the only talent. In the program, Louisa Flaningham, who plays Fanny’s mom, lists her “favorite role to date” as “Mrs. P.J. Benjamin”—referring to her real-life husband. I think that’s a shame; the wonderfulness of Mr. Benjamin notwithstanding, Flaningham was perfect for the role of Mrs. Brice, and I can hardly believe her real-life personality suits her any better. Kilty Reidy disappears just as easily into the role of the good-hearted Eddie Ryan, and he’s equally enjoyable to watch as a dancer.
Speaking of dancing, just because Fanny’s story is the focus on the musical doesn’t mean they skimped on the fun Ziegfeld Follies-style numbers. “His Love Makes Me Beautiful” and “Rat-Tat-Tat-Tat” didn’t make me laugh, but I was won over nonetheless by some lovely dancing.
If you’re a fan of the Westchester Broadway Theatre, Funny Girl is definitely worth the ticket—even more so now that the theatre has some “stimulus deals” going on. The play runs through June 14. For more information, call (914) 592-2222 or visit www.broadwaytheatre.com.
Photos by John Vecchiolla