Book by Isobel Lennart
Music by Jule Styne
Lyrics by Bob Merrill
adapted from the life story of Fanny Brice

INFO:

Opened at the Winter Garden Theatre    March 26, 1964    1,348 performances
Original Director: Garson Kanin (Production supervised by Jerome Robbins)
Original Choreographer: Carol Haney
Original Producer: Ray Stark
Original Leads: Fanny Brice: Barbra Strisand    Nickie Arnstein: Sydney Chaplin    Mrs. Brice: Kay Medford    Mrs. Strakosh: Jean Stapleton
Cast Size: Male: 4    Female: 6    Ensemble: Usually huge, around 30    Total Cast Size: 40. Could be done with as few as 20, though, with a unique approach.
Orchestra: 22  (could be smaller, even down to 7-8)
Published Script: Random House
Production Rights: Tams Witmark
Recordings: The original Broadway with Streisand, one of the best selling cast albums ever.
Film: With Streisand and Omar Sharif, directed by William Wyler. The top grossing film of 1968. Streisand won the Academy Award for Best Actress. (She shared the award with Katharine Hepburn for The Lion In Winter.)
Other shows by the authors: Styne: Bells Are Ringing, Gypsy, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes    Merrill: Carnival, New Girl In Town
Awards: 8 Tony Nominations, no wins. (Not even Streisand???)

WHO SHOULD DO THIS SHOW:

A large show, hard to make into a small show because of the nature of the beast. Fine for large theater groups, colleges and universities, some Dinner Theaters, some regional theaters, and professional production – IF you have a very strong star for the lead.

I’ll suggest an approach below that makes the show much smaller, whole lending it a more theatrical and modern feel. I think you should do it. If so, it could be done by smaller theater groups. You’ll still need Fanny, though.

Be Warned:

IF you do not have a very strong star to play Fanny Brice, an actress of great comic ability, a strikingly funny and beautiful voice, a Jewish quality in her performance, then this is simply not the right show for you. UNLESS…well, I’ll explain the unless below.

The show needs an orchestra. It has a famous overture, and tells the tale of a woman who did the biggest Broadway musical revues of her day. It is largely about production values. Sets, costumes, an orchestra are all required for this show. If you can’t do them, don’t do it.

THE STORY: (Outline from The Barbra Archives – yes, it’s an actual site.)

ACT ONE: Backstage in her dressing room at the New Amsterdam Theatre where she is a reigning Ziegfeld star, Fanny Brice (Barbra Streisand) sits thoughtfully at her dressing table … Fanny knows that soon her husband, Nick Arnstein, will be coming home after serving a prison sentence, and she must make a decision about their future. As she ponders her problem, the sights and the sounds of her past come back to her. First, she remembers herself as a stagestruck teenager … Fanny’s mother (Kay Medford), sharp-tongued but sympathetic, and her poker-playing lady friends try to make the girl com to her senses (If a Girl Isn’t Pretty).

But Fanny hardly hears them as she frantically dresses for an audition at Keeney’s Music Hall. Although she is quickly turned down, Fanny does find a good friend in vaudeville hoofer Eddie Ryan (Danny Meehan). Once outside the theatre, she practically overwhelms Eddie with her iron will to succeed and her unshakable confidence in herself (I’m the Greatest Star). Eddie agrees to coach her in singing and dancing, and they spend night after night going over routines. Fanny’s first break comes when Keeney puts her in the singing lead of a ragtag ragtime number called Cornet Man. She wows the audience, and among those offering congratulations backstage is the formally-attired Nick Arnstein (Sydney Chaplin), who had come to the theatre to pay off a gambling debt to Keeney.

Fanny is quickly smitten with the elegant Mr. Arnstein, but she has little time for mooning over him because producer Florenz Ziegfeld has sent her a telegram offering her a spot in his current Follies. Back at her mother’s house, Eddie and Mrs. Brice both take pride in what they have done to help Fanny along the way (Who Taught Her Everything).

Over at the New York Theatre, where Ziegfeld issues commands from a booth in the rear of the balcony, the Follies company is preparing an elaborate “Bridal Finale,” which Fanny proceeds to play for laughs when the number is presented during an actual performance (His Love Makes Be Beautiful). Nick Arnstein is again on hand to offer congratulations after the show, and he is invited to go along to Mrs. Brice’s opening night block party on Henry Street (I Want to Be Seen With You Tonight).

After the party has been in progress for a while (Henry Street), Fanny and Nick get a chance to be alone, and find themselves being drawn together because of their need for each other (People). Nick, however, must dash away to a horse farm in Kentucky that he has just bought. Some months later, they meet again in Baltimore, where Fanny is touring in the Follies, and they have a private dinner at an exclusive restaurant (You Are Woman).

That does it. Fanny just cannot leave Nick now. At the railroad station, as the Follies company is preparing to board the train for Chicago and Nick is to catch one for New York, Fanny flatly decides to quit the tour and to follow Nick. She feels that this is her one real chance for happiness and is determined not to let anything stand in her way (Don’t Rain on My Parade).

ACT TWO: After their marriage, Fanny and Nick move into a mansion on Long Island. Their friends welcome them with a surprise party, and Fanny regales them all with her enthusiastic description of the joys of married life (Sadie, Sadie).

Some time later, in Mrs. Brice’s home, Eddie and a neighbor, Mrs. Strakosh (Jean Stapleton), try to talk Fanny’s mother into looking for a husband now that her daughter has become a Ziegfeld star (Find Yourself A Man).

During rehearsal of a new Follies, Nick approaches Ziegfeld backstage to put money into a gambling casino that he plans to build in Florida. Ziegfeld refuses, but Fanny insists on putting up the necessary capital. Since we are now in the World War I period, it is appropriate that the Follies have a rousing military finale called Rat-Tat-Tat-Tat. The routine features tap dancers in soldier uniforms, show girls in costumes representing the Allies, and Fanny Brice as an outlandish Private Schwartz from Rockaway.

The only thing that spoils Fanny’s opening night is that Nick has not shown up. When he does come to see her in the dressing room after the performance, he tells Fanny the grim news that the gambling casino venture has failed and he has lost all of her money. Because Fanny makes light of it, Nick’s pride is hurt and he complains that she treats him like a child. Fanny, for the first time, begins to have doubts about their relationship (Who Are You Now?).

A few weeks later, Fanny again tries to help her husband by secretly putting up the money to make him a partner in a talent agency. Nick, however, rejects the proposal when he finds out what Fanny has done. Incensed that he is so dependent upon his wife, Nick, in desperation, gets involved in a shady bond deal. It is not long before Nick is arrested for embezzlement. Backstage at the New Amsterdam, Mrs. Brice makes Fanny realize her responsibility for what has happened. With a heavy heart, Fanny goes onstage to sing a Follies song, The Music That Makes Me Dance, which becomes her own admission of what Nick means to her.

The final scene, Fanny’s dressing room, is a continuation of the first scene of the play. Nicky, just out of prison, enters. While they still love each other deeply, it is obvious that their marriage can bring only unhappiness to both of them. Reluctantly—but inevitably—they part. Fanny courageously resolves to pick up her life again (Don’t Rain on My Parade, reprise).

THE SONGS:

“If A Girl Isn’t Pretty”, “I’m The Greatest Star”, “Cornet Man”, “Who Taught Her Everything”, “His Love Makes Me Beautiful”, “I Want To Be Seen With You Tonight”, “Henry Street”, “People”, “You Are Woman”, “Don’t Rain On My Parade”, “Sadie, Sadie”, “Find Yourself A Man”, “Rat-Tat-Tat-Tat”, “Who Are You Now”, “The Music That Makes Me Dance”

Hits include “I’m The Greatest Star”, “People”, “You Are Woman” (it’s still an awful song), “Don’t Rain On My Parade”

MY OPINIONS:

As always, you may choose to ignore or skip my opinions and rating. Hey, just don’t tell me, okay! Don’t, um, rain on my parade.

The show that made Barbra Streisand a star.

This show is really a mixed bag when it comes to lyrics. There are rhymes Mr. Merrill should have been ashamed to write, used in an attempt to establish that “old-timesy” feel of 1910 and thereabouts. Rhymes in “When A Girl Isn’t Pretty” like “quarter-oughter”, and “marble-horr’ble” that really don’t work. And the, he gets it right when he writes for Streisand. He understood her voice, her ability and strengths. So you get to “I’m The Greatest Star”, and the lyric is clever, fun, right for a Fanny Brice type, and specifically for what Ms. Streisand does so well in the song – mug adorably. He captures precisely the anger frustration that Streisand projects so well, in “Don’t Rain On My Parade.” And of course, there’s the simplicity of the lyric for “People”, eloquent and eternal. But then, there’s the utter dreck of “You Are Woman”, one of the silliest love songs ever…except for Fanny’s counterpoint, which is clever enough, and very telling regarding where the author’s were placing their effort and their bets. Nick’s part of this song is about as bad as Fanny and Nick’s first love song, “I Want To Be Seen With You”, a startlingly unromantic piece for the moment in the show that it occupies. You see it again in “Rat-Tat_Tat-Tat”, a number that no one cares about at all, until Fanny does her “Private Svartz from Rockaway” bit. “Henry Street” is a real bore, as well, no Fanny, as is “Find A Man”, meant to be a comedy charm song of sorts, only it induces smiles at best. The numbers don’t work very well when they aren’t for Fanny, and that’s the story of Funny Girl. A mixed bag, and it runs about 60/40 to the good…90/10 when the songs are Fanny’s.

Styne knew how to write for stars. That was why he had been brought in a few years earlier to compose the songs for Gypsy. Merman insisted on a composer with a proven track record with stars, with hit songs on his resume. What Merman demanded from producers, she got. Styne was certainly one of the few men on Broadway writing at the time of Funny Girl with that sort of background. Bock & Harnick were not writers for stars. Frank Loesser had passed away. Irving Berlin’s hit days were years behind him. Stephen Sondheim had just authored his first show as a composer/lyricist, and the score had not been received well by the critics. (A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum) Merrill himself had written his own music for several shows including a hit (Carnival), but was regarded primarily as a lyricist. Styne was pretty well it. And this would pretty much be his last hit-filled show. Streisand lucked out. (Of course, with outrageous talent like hers, it really isn’t luck at all. If it hadn’t been Funny Girl, a good but not great show, it would have been something else for her.)

A little more history, while we’re at it. The Producer, Ray Stark, was Fanny Brice’s son in law. So he had a personal stake. His wife was the daughter of Fanny Brice and Nickie Arnstein. (Pictures of Brice and Arnstein, who was a famed con man and gambler.)


This is a show, like Gypsy, about real people. Show-biz people like the famed Producer, Flo Zeigfeld, the creator of the famed Zeigfeld Follies, and Producer of Show Boat.

It would be in those Follies (“glorifying the American girl” ran the ads – and how!) that Brice would star so brilliantly on Broadway, along with other great stars of her time, and many very scantily dressed Ziegfeld Girls. (Some of their photos definitely qualify today as porn. Here’s a relatively demure series of photos.)

Here’s Ziggy and his girls.

Brice sang many of her hits performing for Ziegfeld, including the great songs, “My Man”, and “Second Hand Rose”. These songs and others she sang are the inspiration for much of the score for Funny Girl, and you should get to know them. What’s more, there is plenty of radio of Brice herself doing her famed character “Baby Snooks”, in the 40s. There are recordings of her singing. (She was good.) There is even footage from the early 30s of Brice performing on stage, such as her take on an opera diva. Does she mug? Oy? Is it funny? Pretty much. If you’re considering this show, research her life, it’s fun.

Anyway, when Styne and Merrill were writing for Streisand to solo, their work is exceptional, a sort of peak of the kind of songwriting done for stars at the time. Listen to Streisand sing her “lesser” numbers in the show, like “Cornet Man,” “Sadie, Sadie,” and “The Music That Makes Me Dance” (replaced with “My Man” in the film), and you know you’re listening to songwriters at their peak writing for a star who was about to explode into the public’s consciousness. The rest of the score – not so much. This was Streisand’s big break, and she made it soar as only she could have. The rest of the show – not so much.

Funny Girl is constructed to be a star vehicle, and always was. And that tells you that if you do not have an incredibly funny, fantastically gifted Jewish girl (or one who can pass) with a voice that can belt like nobody’s business, and can pour on warmth and passion like smooth hot melted butter on popcorn, well…do another show. Fanny is Funny Girl, she is the show. No amount of great direction or flashy production value will hide the fact that your Fanny is not sensational if she is not. This is why the show probably gets fewer productions than one would anticipate. There’s only one Streisand. That does not mean you won’t find a wonderful Brice. If you elect to do this show, though, it should be because you have a Fanny Brice, you should not run auditions looking for one…

…Unless. A thought for Producers. Want to do a pro version of this show? And why not? (The script could use some tightening and be funnier for one thing, though the numbers often carry the comedy.) Run a competition for “the next Streisand.” Make it very public, promote the competition like crazy. Make a star, as Ray Stark and his writing team did in 1964. (To be fair, Streisand was already in the radar for her earlier appearance in Pins & Needles, and I Can Get It For You Wholesale. But Funny Girl undeniably made her a star.) It would bring a lot of attention to your production. And this show is unique in its ability to support such a stunt.

I know when I first saw Funny Girl on stage, decades ago, I found myself bored with it, unless the actress playing Brice was on and performing. And even then, the young lady starring that night was not up to the challenge. The love scenes are largely a snooze, I’m afraid, without an actress of Streisand’s gravitas. So find one. Help make her a star and your show a success. It’s worked before.

MY RATING: * (A better-than-average and interesting show, right for many groups.)

PRODUCTION CONCERNS AND IDEAS:

DIFFICULTY OF MUSIC:

The score is pretty straight-ahead Musical Comedy stuff. Styne indulges in some pretty interesting melodic content at times, and there is an element of pastiche at work in Funny Girl, as some songs are based on actual songs Ms. Brice sang. (You can be fairly sure that anything the character of Fanny sings “on stage” is pastiche, based on an existing song or songs that your Musical Director, Director and Choreographer may wish to research.)

Outside of the Fanny songs, nothing is very rangy…or interesting. Or particularly entertaining. You should keep performances of songs like “If A Girl Isn’t Pretty”, “Henry Street”, and “Find Yourself A Man” very tight and crisp, move them along and don’t give the audience much time to think about them.

Musically and in every other way, the show is Fanny’s. If the gal you cast can’t sing her songs with passion, expertise, and charisma, you’re toast. Plan as a Musical Director on expending a fair amount of your time on her pieces, and plan on perfecting them.

The Musical Director for Funny Girl should be expert at working with soloists and pulling performances from them. You’ll need a rehearsal pianist who can think like a conductor, as you’ll be shaping numbers to your lead actress’s performance strengths. No job for a beginner.

Fanny Brice – Mezzo with a gorgeous, full but feminine belt, some seriously available high notes. The role made Streisand famous, the cast album was a best seller on the strength of her performance of Brice. Anyone performing this role is going to get compared to Streisand. So it might be wise to move away from expectations and to build the performances of each song in a new and unique way. I would not attempt to duplicate Streisand’s phrasing or anything she did. You’ll want a voice unlike hers, but one with fantastic qualities of its own.

Nick Arnstein – Baritone, the romantic lead. A mature, warm voice. He only shares two duets with her, has no solos. The ranges were kept small for him. They clearly anticipated a non-singer taking the role. (Listening to the original cast album, one is inclined to think they found him.)

Mrs. Brice – Comic, character-driven mezzo voice of a mature, Jewish woman and mother. And oy! What a mother! That’s the quality you want projected vocally. Not very rangy.

Flo Zeigfeld – Spoken role

Mrs. Strakosh – Mezzo, character driven middle-aged Jewish woman, with a NYC accent which should be heard a bit as she sings.

Eddie – Lyric baritone with a strong upper register and a theatrical belt in his mid-range.

Ziegfeld Tenor – A serious, nearly Irish tenor, but with a big, full voice throughout his range. High notes must bounce of the back wall of the house. A type of voice made famous by shows like Ziegfeld’s.

Ensemble – All should belt fairly well, harmonize well.

DIFFICULTY OF DANCE, CHOREOGRAPHIC CONCERNS:

The “on stage” numbers need to feel choreographed, and what’s more, they need to imitate the style of movement found in a Ziegfeld Follies show. More – they need to be built always around Fanny, building up to her entrances where appropriate, such as in “His Love Makes Me beautiful”, where the entire number leads up to her “pregnant” entrance. She’s the show.

Ziegfeld shows were famous for tall, gorgeous, leggy girls in ridiculously huge hats and lush costumes, generally parading about rather than dancing much. How could they dance wearing a three foot tall hat? There’ll be some parading up and down staircases, no doubt. But the most “dance” you’ll get in the show will be when Fanny is learning her audition routine from Eddie, towards the beginning. You will not want Fanny “dancing” while singing big solos, even aggressive ones like “Cornet Man”, or “Don’t Rain On My Parade”, and certainly not during her ballads. She’s going to do a lot of standing and singing.

Does all of this sound rather static? It is. That’s a problem with this show. You can work around it to some extent by pulling what I call a “Tab Hunter.” Hunter was an actor, and appeared as Young Joe in the film version of Damn Yankees. He apparently could not dance at all. So Fosse staged big dance numbers like “Whatever Lola Wants”, and “Two Lost Souls” with Hunter more-or-less stationary, and everyone else in motion around him. Of course, the eye goes to one of two things: 1) something in motion when all else is still, and 2) something still when all else is in motion. You’ll want to keep #2 in mind as you choreograph this show.

A Choreographer is likely to be involved in staging “If A Girl Isn’t Pretty”, “Cornet Man”, “Who Taught Her Everything”, “His Love Makes Me Beautiful”, “Henry Street”, “Find Yourself A Man”, and “Rat-Tat-Tat-Tat”.

“If A Girl Isn’t Pretty”, “Who Taught Her Everything She Knows”, “Henry Street”, and “Find Yourself A Man” are , unfortunately all ‘real life” numbers (in as opposed to “on stage” numbers for Fanny), and focus on characters other than Fanny. Cumulatively, these represent the single largest problem of the show. They’re not very strong numbers. As a rule, the show slumps when Fanny isn’t up there. These four numbers should move along, get some smiles, maybe a laugh or two, but don’t sit on their tempi. Make them move.

“If A Girl Isn’t Pretty” is (sadly) your opening number. It has far less energy in it than the Overture, and that is not a good thing. A drop in energy to start a show? Not so good. What’s more, it renders every character but Fanny into a jerk. These are not very likable people. I’d play it as if was all a sort of jest-among-friends. I would not “choreograph” it to look danced at all, these our numbers are supposed to feel like “life”, and should not have the slick, staged look of the “on stage” numbers. Stay loose, let the actors act their way out of the hole the numbers put the show in, and provide just enough movement that there may be a laugh or two – with nothing that is obviously “dance.”

“Who Taught Her…” is a comic duet of Fanny’s Mom, and her dance mentor/friend. If you allow things to feel disgruntled, as if they feel Fanny is ungrateful for their help, you will make these two characters (really your 3rd and 4th leads) unlikable. So don’t. They’re kidding each other and they know it. If anyone knows Fanny’s amazing talent and drive, it would be these two. The moment they take the sentiment expressed in this number’s lyric seriously, your show will stop working. They can demonstrate some of their own skills with just a touch of soft show in this number, which would be a welcome “dance break”. But keep it under control.

“Find Yourself A Man” is a particularly lousy number, I’m afraid, another real life piece for Eddie and Mother Brice, with the rather obnoxious Mrs. Strakosh added in for additional heartburn. Keep it light, kidding Mrs. B. Don’t let the other characters get pushy. Mrs. Brice should be the focus of the number, and her responses should be dry and funny. (You might improvise some funnier, sharper lines for her to respond to this assault with. I would.)

“Henry Street” is a “rousing”, utterly forgettable ensemble number about, um, the neighborhood Fanny has already escaped from. It’s used to set up Nick as a fish-out-of-water. That’s really its only purpose, as we’ve already been introduced to the neighborhood in the opening number. Me, I’d cut this number, get to Nick’s entrance and the drama. The show is long as it is. But there is a shortage of group numbers in Funny girl, which is another reason this one is doubtless in the show. Anyway, assuming you keep the number, make these people a clear contrast to the sophisticated and worldly Mr. Arnstein. They are street ethnic NYC. Develop this idea clearly. And avoid “dance”. Keep it real.

“Cornet Man”, “Rat-Tat-Tat-Tat”, and “His Love Makes Me Beautiful” are “on stage” numbers. “Cornet Man” revolves around Fanny and, well, a musician playing Cornet…a dancer really, miming playing (without hiding the fact), who flows and leaps and generally dances around Fanny. Perhaps several ‘musicians” can do that sort of routine, instruments in hand, leaving Fanny center and more or less stationary. She needs to sing. A fun number to stage, allowing for some dance.

“His Love Makes Me Beautiful” is one of those slow female marches on staircase numbers. Arms extended out to their sides (for balance, probably, as well as to show off shapely limbs), the girls parade. And parade. And then Fanny is revealed, somehow prominently placed and spotlit, “pregnant”, and imitating the sort of movement the Ziegfeld Girls were just doing, but for comedic effect. She’s revealed as pregnant when she stands sideways.

“Rat-Tat-Tat-Tat” is perhaps the number most like a Brice specialty number for Ziegfeld’s Follies. It is straight ahead patriotic, flags waving, girls saluting and marching and high-stepping – until Fanny enters doing her Dutch Comic bit (Jewish, in this case). A chance again for some movement.

A Choreographer for this show should be experienced with pastiche-like numbers, understand the Zeigfeld Follies and what numbers looked and felt like, know tap and soft-shoe, and know when not to have anyone dance. A job for an experienced, and rather expert choreographer.

CASTING CONCERNS:

Fanny Brice – 20s-30s. Pretty much the show. Brice herself was rather homely, as you can see in photos and film of her, but if you cast that way, the love story will become problematic. She needs to be a “special” girl, ethnic, but lovely, even if she doesn’t see the lovely part herself. Requires an extremely sympathetic actress who can play angry play with a believable and even frightening edge. And funny! Oy! Her timing must be exquisite, her accents a riot. Very few women will be able to carry this role, cast carefully. Your show depends on her. Cast for voice, type, acting, movement – must be exceptional at everything. A star.

Nick Arnstein – 30s-40s. Very handsome, suave, worldly, sophisticated. An essentially gentle man who lives by his wits. He falls deeply, truly in love with Fanny, enchanted by everything about her. Once he does, he will go to any lengths to be “her man,” and when he fails, it is devastating for both of them. Everyone likes Nick. Cast for acting, type, voice.

Mrs. Brice – 50s or so. Fanny’s Jewish mother from somewhere deep inside NYC. A survivor. Hard working, hard playing in her way. Though outwardly a bit of a curmudgeon, in truth rather accepting. And deeply proud of her loud, abrasive, brilliant daughter. Cast for acting, type, voice, a little movement.

Flo Zeigfeld – The famed impresario. There’s film of him, and of fictionalized versions of him such as in the film, “The Great Ziegfeld”. Handsome, fatherly, captain of the ship. A no-nonsense man who is intolerant of opposition. But he falls for Fanny as they all do, and in the end will do anything for her. Imposing, impressive. Cast for acting, type.

Mrs. Strakosh – 50s or so, a typical yente from the neighborhood. A buttinsky. If you don’t know what a “yente” and a “buttisnky” are, why are you doing this show? Cast for type, acting, some voice, perhaps some movement.

Eddie – 30s-40s. An old hand, a lower-rung Broadway-type choreographer and hoofer. Irascible song-and-dance man who, like everyone, falls for Fanny hard. Cast for dance, type,. Acting, voice – must do all well. Important to the show to get him right.

Ensemble – Types from Henry Street. Ziegfeld girls. All should sing well, move okay.

SETS:

This is a large Broadway musical, and calls for many sets. They would normally need to feel quite real. There’s backstage dressing rooms, Fanny and Nick’s huge house, theater stages, the Henry Street house, Keeney’s Music Hall (4 scenes), a train station…It reads like a film script in some ways. If you’re doing this show the “standard” way, then you’ll need significant resources and a Set Designer with a lot of experience. You may be able to rent some of the sets, but there will be many, they’ll need to be hung and lowered, you’ll need a fair size crew.

HOWEVER – (HERE’S THE PROMISED NEW APPROACH!) here’s a suggestion as to how to make the show more interesting today, and more affordable. Play the whole evening as if it was a Flo Ziegfeld show. He’s directing rehearsal, in the “audience” calling cues as the audience enters. He calls the overture. Then, lights rise on the stage, which has in the shadows in every corner Ziegfeld showgirls, walking with the famed showgirl walk and those hats across the stage in silhouette, or stationary. Center – a single chair, a work light, Fanny. Scene I.. (You’ll return to this look for the final scene of the play.) (With this approach, about 16-20 actors can play all the roles. It’s a rehearsal. Have the showgirls play the people on Hnery Street, etc. More fun!)

Scene II-III is at Keeney’s Music Hall. The work light is removed. Lights change to indicate a change in location, and cheap footlights light up. That’s it. Maybe a gorgeous Ziegfeld Girl walks across with a sign telling us where we are, and the year.

Scene IV, the footlights drop, sound of a rooster maybe starts the scene. A trashcan is brought in by Eddie, to sit on. Still, in the shadows, Ziegfeld Girls watch as Eddie teaches Fanny to dance. Scene V, up the footlights, out the can. Perhaps the Z Girls watch Fanny’s act, moving until their backs are to the audience and they are standing in the corners downstage. Then, they return upstage for Scene VI, backstage at Keeney’s. That’s it for that change.

Scene VII, Mrs. Brice’s kitchen. Drop out the footlights. A chair, homey, is brought in. A Z Girl with another sign lets us know we’re in Mrs. Brice’s kitchen.

Scene VIII – the Ziegfeld Theatre, backstage. Flo, who has been directing from the audience, now plays a part from there. It’s a bare stage, the work light hovering nearby and on. The girls go into motion, live and a part of this scene.

Scene IX, Fanny’s first Ziegfeld number. These were grandiose, but we are going small. A staircase rolls on (your largest set piece) from one side, high end off stage, and the Z girls and Roscoe…sorry, the tenot, and finally Fanny come down those stairs. Or no stairs, just a fancy drape is held at the back by two of the taller Z girls and girls walks through it. Or lower the drapes from the rafters mid stage. Or lower drapes AND push through their center a staircase. Whatever you can do.

Scene X, backstage – everything is removed, the work light hovers nearby again, that’s it.

Scene XI, Henry Street. A girl with a sign, and the crowd floods in., as the work light’s removed and the lighting opens up. The crowd are the Z performers, the girls and all, maintaining their hats, etc. Or removing them. They are “doubling” and no attempt might be made to hide the fact. Laughs might be had as he “glorifies the American Girl” in this most common of locations. It’s all “part of the show.”

Scene XII, inside Mrs. Brice’s house. (It says her “salon”. It can be her kitchen, of course.) A table is brought on, and four chairs. (This scene can be cut. It’s used to cover a set change normally happening behind it, and it is normally played “in 1”, in front of the main drape, on the apron of a proscenium stage.)

Scene XIII, Private fancy dining room. Red drapes descend. The table from XII is covered in a fancy ed velvet cloth, white roses walked on for the table by “Paul”. Two chairs used in the last scene are placed behind the table to hide their appearance but allow them to be used. That’s it, with a lighting change. Candles on the table would be a touch, perhaps electric and lit.

XIV, the railroad station. A Z girl with sign let’s us know where we are. The table and drapes are cleared. Behind the drapes, lowered from the rafters, perhaps an automated electric table listing departing trains and times, hung center or so. That’s it. Let people do the rest, have the trains off stage left and right to indicate Fanny’s disparate choices. Perhaps a small ticket booth is rolled on downstage in a corner. Or not, use an employee taking tickets to sell her one. As Act I ends, the stage clears, and the work light assumes its original position. Mr. Z meets on stage with crew to give quiet notes during intermission. Perhaps he even gives actors some notes, including the actress playing Fanny.

Act II, Scene I, the work light’s removed as a chandelier lowers from the rafters mid-stage and lights up. A Z Girl lets us know by a sign, that we’re at the Arnstein Long Island mansion. It is unfurnished in the script – so much the better.

Scene II, the chandelier rises, the kitchen table and chairs are brought back on for Mrs. Brice’s kitchen again.

Scene III, a work light “backstage” at a theater, all else removed again. It looks like it did at the top of the show. The Z girls hover in the shadows and walk, as if practicing, as Fanny talks to various characters who step into the light. Ne of these is Mr. Z himself, rushing up and almost missing his own cue, from the house. (He can be seated third or fourth row aisle each night, or further back. Maybe give him a chair and place it in the aisle.)

Scene IV transitions instantly to on stage, a performance on the stage in that same theatre. The worklight is removed. Lighting pops up. A vast American Flag drop in dropped perhaps, covering much of the back of the stage and the girls enter through this curtain at its center, with new “costumes”, patriotic and silly. (It could be just flags held by two Z Girls, large flags the other girls walk through.)

Scene V, the flag is removed (or flags), work light is back again. Lighting changes for “backstage” in a dressing room. A “portable bar” is rolled on, and several chairs walked in.

Scene VI, the bar and chairs are removed. The Arnstein house. Lower the chandelier, bring in a small settee, fancy on one side, with an end table and a phone on it. When Fanny sings “on stage”, a spotlight picks her up, all other lighting drops.

Scene VII, the stage is made bare, chandelier removed. A number rehearses. Eddie is with Mr. Z in the house, watching.

Scene VIII, the work light is walked on, all the actors are in their original places. They watch from the shadows as Fanny and Nick put on a little show of their own, pretending it means nothing to break up. End of show, as it began. Mr. Z. walks them through a curtain call, calling their actual names (“Next, Mr. Jones and Ms Smith…center, bow, okay, next…”)

This approach makes your sets very easy to do, and very inexpensive. It will make the show possible for smaller groups with smaller stages and fewer technical and financial resources. It should cut cast size down considerably. As it’s “a rehearsal”, costumes could be vastly simplified and made cheaper. (More to follow on that.) You might be able to do this version with a piano, perhaps on stage in a corner (or not), and with just a few musicians in the pit. You’d need to cut down or skip the great overture, but your costs would be cut to less than half – and the show might feel more contemporary, newer, fresh.

COSTUMES:

Going with the show as it is traditionally done, the Ziegfeld numbers require spectacular costuming.

Traditionally, Fanny and her family and others are dressed for the period, the 1910s-20s. That’s not terribly hard, but you may need to rent the costumes from a large shop, it’s a period not often called for today. Or you may need to build the costumes. Traditionally, a very large and costume-heavy show, all period.

OR do the rehearsal approach! They could wear 1920s street/rehearsal clothes with hints of costumes they’re trying out. A fur for Fanny when she gets rich, Nicky in suits, Ziegfeld always dressed in a suit. Some of the famed hats, at Ziggy’s command. MUCH cheaper and easier! But get the shoes right.

A job for an experienced costumer.

PROPS:

Card to play cards with, and coins to gamble. Food for the Henry Street party, booze for the backstage celebration. A phone for backstage, another for the Arnstein estate, in period. Props for various on-stage numbers. A dress for Mrs. Brice to repair for Fanny’s audition, and needle and thread. Suitcases for when they travel, in the period. Not too trying a task, though there is bound to be more.

LIGHTING:

Very important, regardless of the approach you take. The “on stage” action must be differentiated from the “real life” action, and that will have a lot to do with lighting. Use follow spots for the on-stage numbers, and often. Never use them for real life. Perhaps more saturated and obviously theatrical gelling for on stage.

A big job for a pro.

MAKE-UP:

Unobtrusive as everyone will be playing multiple roles. If you glitz up the showgirls, they will have a hard time playing anything else. You may use a lot of wigs. Could be a job with hair.

KEY PERSONNEL (The ones you MUST get right.):

Director, Choreographer, Musical Director, Set Designer, Costume Designer, Lighting Designer, Fanny, Fanny and Fanny, or else your chances of pulling this off are, well, my fanny.

MY THOUGHTS:
This is a show ripe for reconsideration. It is a bit creaky and needs the sort of rethink I’ve tried to provide above. It needs a wash of creative freshness. But much of the score is flat-out gorgeous, filled with life. There are great songs here, and big hits. And there’s a fantastic starring role for an extraordinarily talented star of the right sort. You’ll need the star and Director to be in sync. Both will have a job to do. But this could be a wonderful show to revive in a very creative manner.