Contact Form

    News Details

    Review: ‘Funny Girl’ in Costa Mesa boasts a mega-talented star
    • May 30, 2024

    At the end of almost any show these days,  theater audiences rise for an obligatory standing ovation as if the doorbell just rang and the last Halloween candy needs doling out.

    Rarely, an audience roars out of its seats with fervent spontaneity, a visceral launch as if the chairs were spring-loaded.

    Tuesday evening, the largely unknown stage actress Katerina McCrimmon, starring as Fanny Brice in the touring “Funny Girl” newly arrived at Segerstrom center, generated that raw eruption.

    And deservedly so! While touring productions of Broadway musicals chugging through the hinterlands often have lead parts filled with fine enough performances, encountering a “who was THAT!?” jaw-dropping talent is a rare sighting.

    And an even rarer “sounding,” as it turns out.

    Barbra Streisand has cast more than a half-century of deepest shade over these songs which made her a star. The ultimate factor, of course, was her indelible voice and a lifetime of couture tailored musical arrangements — starting with the “Funny Girl” film score — to show it off.

    McCrimmon’s considerable vocal entitlement is on bigtime display throughout these golden age show tunes. Its most overt quality is that she proves to be a Broadway belter with the best of them.

    During the animated show ending reprise of the warhorse “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” McCrimmon crowns the number by drilling the possessive adjective, stringing out that “Myyyyyyyyyyyy”  effortlessly and extending the belted note far longer than we anticipate while we are hearing it.

    The crowd, as they say, went wild.

    Vocal pyrotechnics aside, what makes this show go across most of its 2 ½ hours is that McCrimmon is also a plus-one strong comedic actor. This “Funny Girl” features an actually funny girl.

    In real life, Fanny Brice couldn’t sing a lick. She became a star a century ago as an unparalleled vaudeville comedienne at a time when it was strictly a man’s job to make ‘em laugh.

    As Fanny says in a line of dialogue, “they laughed with me, not at me.”

    McCrimmon never breaks the fourth wall, but her Fanny’s naturalistic asides, glances and, most of all, reactions to what other characters just said to her, personalizes the experience to a level that it feels she is kibbitzing one-on-one wisecracks with the last row in the orchestra section.

    A key to the evening, too, is that McCrimmon in this production is keeping quite nice company.

    Her charming swain-then-husband, Nick Arnstein is well filled by Stephen Mark Lukas. An understudy in the Broadway production, Lukas looks and frets the part of a gambler desperately descending into jail time over a crooked deal.

    Lukas’ baritone is a fine fit for McCrimmon in the comic seduction duet “You Are Woman, I Am Man”;  even better is his resigned delivery of the winsome lament “You’re a Funny Girl.”

    Melissa Manchester, left, and Katerina McCrimmon star in the national tour of “Funny Girl,” on stage at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa through June 9. (Photo by Matthew Murphy for Murphy Made)

    As Mrs. Brice, Fanny’s mom, Melissa Manchester makes for a dandy uber-Jewish empress of the running poker game in the Lower-East Side ghetto on Henry Street, which Harvey Fierstein, brought in for this production to punch up the book, has unaccountably shuffled off to Brooklyn.

    Manchester also wears her mother-in-law “I told you this guy was going to be a problem” tone lightly, as if what is evident to her as the wife who got jilted should be clear to all.

    Vocally, Manchester only gets a lead in the song “Who Taught Her Everything She Knows?”  It’s the show’s loss we don’t hear Manchester’s voice solo another time.

    This production is also buoyed throughout by strong tap dance scenes, especially two solos from Izaiah Montaque Harris as Eddie Ryan. Beyond Harris’ applause-drawing dexterity, he functions smoothly as Fanny’s low-level showbiz confidant as well as part time choreographer at the Ziegfeld Follies.

    Katerina McCrimmon and Izaiah Montague-Harris star in the national touring production of “Funny Girl,” on stage at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa through June 9. (Photo by Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade)

    The follies’ ensemble dance scenes with the whole cast intermittently provides the show with period fun and plenty of costuming razzmatazz.

    Musically, the generous pit band of 17 — led by director Elaine Davidson — announced the fulsome musical pleasures to come with an inviting instrumental overture showcase.

    An interesting musical component is how the show’s biggest warhorse, “People”  sort of sneaks up on you in the stage mounting.

    Everyone, of course, has been trained to know how this ballad/anthem sounds from a lifetime hearing the Streisand studio recording or her taped live 1994 performance at the then-Arrowhead Pond of Anaheim.

    Here, the magic isn’t about hearing a No. 1 hit yet again, but experiencing its true, original purpose within the show’s framework.

    This is the first moment Fanny’s always on-display vulnerabilities aren’t paid off with a punchline, but, instead, a window to her inner, emotional landscape.

    Another surprise for anyone who saw this show in New York is that on Broadway, this same physical set design felt underwhelming, a bit  makeshift. However, at Segerstrom the visual references to the long-ago red brick of early 20th century Manhattan … er, OK Harvey, Brooklyn … feel downright homey.

    Don’t think for a minute, though, that this bagel doesn’t come with a big hole in it.

    Related links

    ‘Alma’ at Anaheim’s Chance Theater is an intimate portrait of the immgrant experience
    South Coast Repertory announces its 2024-25 season
    Center Theatre Group’s new season brings its three venues under one show-stopping roof
    ‘Galilee, 34’ at South Coast Repertory offers a fresh take on the life of Jesus
    ‘Tartuffe’ displays timeless humor at Laguna Playhouse

    “Funny Girl’s” second act has a book that turns Fanny into a maudlin mope and a run of songs that can’t stand up to the powerhouse numbers which landed before the intermission curtain.

    Early on in “Funny Girl,” after Fanny and Nick kiss for the first time, McCrimmon does a brief tap step jig of excitement that maybe lasts a second, at most. It’s a visual riff that Streisand originated, and which  “Funny Girl” fanatics likely recognize.

    In an insightful article in Performance magazine, about theater performers in roles indelibly tied to megastars,  McCrimmon acknowledges that “for many people, Fanny and Barbara are one.”

    Probably so. But while in front of us, Katerina McCrimmon accomplishes the unfathomable — she makes the role her own.

    ‘Funny Girl’

    Rating: 3 1/2 stars (out of a possible four).

    When: Through June 9; 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturdays; 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sundays.

    Where: Segerstrom Center for the Arts, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa

    Tickets: $39-$139

    Information: 949-556-2787;

    ​ Orange County Register