“Funny Girl,” which opened last week at the Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre, is strongly associated with Barbra Streisand, who originated the role and won an Oscar for the film, version.
So when theaters produce the story about Ziegfeld Follies comedienne Fanny Brice and her troubled relationship with gambler Nick Arnstein, there are big shoes to fill.
Something Dutch Apple newcomer Anna Baker does quite nicely.
She makes a wonderful Fanny, with top acting chops and a great big, powerful voice, which she knows how to use to great effect.
Yet she is her own Fanny, not a knock off of Streisand.
The show is set around World War and Fanny is desperate to become a star on vaudeville.
Not conventionally beautiful and clutzy, Fanny might feel insecure, but she never gives up. Eventually, she realizes her biggest strength is being funny.
Her perseverance pays off and she gets a small break at a theater, where she meets Eddie Ryan (Christopher Russell) , a dancer and choreographer, who sees how special she is, and asks her out.
But Fanny is looking for that magical romantic figure who always turns out to be trouble. She finds him in the handsome, suave Nick Arnstein, dashingly played by Galloway Stevens.
He comes around one night to pay off a gambling debt and Fanny is smitten.
There is strong chemistry between Baker and Stevens and director Brian Enzman tones down Fanny’s desperation and makes Arnstein more appealing. (By the way, the song “My Man” is not part of the production. It was included in the film.)
The drama of the relationship still works but in a more complex way.
Nick does something to lift Fanny’s confidence, make her feel pretty.
Her career takes off and suddenly she is made of money.
Nick does well too, and he buys a huge mansion on Long Island.
They have a child and Fanny keeps getting more and more famous while Nick runs into trouble.
His investments go bad (including one Fanny invested big money in) and soon there are strains on their marriage and he is in legal trouble.
Unfortunately, the play sometimes feels dated and the scenes with Fanny’s mother (Kathi Osborne) and Ryan don’t have much punch.
But when Baker and Stevens are on stage, things pop nicely.
This is Baker’s first show at the Dutch Apple and here’s hoping it won’t be her last. When she sings “I’m the Greatest Star,” believe it.
If You Go:
Runs through May 2
Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre,
510 Centerville Road
Tickets: Dinner and Show - $49 to $53; $25 for students (13 -18), $21 for children (3 -12: ; Show only $34, $19 for children
898 - 1900