Hello, Gorgeous! The History Of Fanny Brice And The Cult Classic Musical, Funny Girl

Posted on 7 November 2015

With the news of the classic Jule Styne and Bob Merill musical FUNNY GIRL making its way from its sold out run at the Menier this fall into the Savoy Theatre on the West End next April, I thought it would be apt to take you through the history of Funny Girl as a musical and where it originated from before that.

I’m sure you know very well that Funny Girl is a story based on the life of Fanny Brice, a very famous American performer, model and all-around superstar of the 1920s/1930s. She was also a very popular singer and her biggest hits include ‘My Man’ which is used in the film adaptation of the musical and ‘I’d Rather Be Blue Thinking Of You’ which is also performed in the show by Fanny Brice. The idea for the show was inspired by her son-in-law Ray Stark who ceased publication of his biography on her life and decided to submit it as a screenplay. Word got around and they decided the story was best suited for a stage musical and so the journey of Funny Girl as a musical began.
Interesting fact of the day here: if you were a fan of the Sky Atlantic musical TV show Smash, it was actually indirectly based on Garson Kanin’s time directing the original production of the Funny Girl musical for Broadway. Kanin took the experience he was getting directly the very troubled production and turned it into a book, changing all of the names and anything that blatantly referenced Funny Girl as a musical – he decided on the book being about the creation of a musical about the life of Nora Bayes. The book was, funnily enough, a smash and people were interested about how a Broadway show goes from a concept to a reality. The book Smash and the story it holds was then the loose basis for the 2012 television series, but a musical about Marilyn Monroe was created in that show instead.
Back to the history of Funny Girl: the original production was very troubled in its creative process. Sondheim was originally eyeing up taking a part in the creation of the show but refused when he found out Mary Martin was being considered for the show because she wasn’t Jewish. Both of them left and many different cast and crew changes were made even during their first out of town tryout in Boston. The show was slated for being far too long and the libretto was poor and the same kind of reviews continued to flood in through their run Philadelphia as well. The Broadway opening was delayed for several weeks while they continued to try and iron-out the production out of town before it finally started performances at the Winter Garden Theatre on Broadway on March 26th 1964; the show also ran at the Majestic and the Broadway Theatre during its run before closing on July 1st 1967 after 1348 performances. The production was nominated for 8 Tony Awards in 1964 including Best Musical and Best Leading Actress in a Musical for newcomer Barbra Streisand, but failed to win any whilst sitting in the shadow of the original production of HELLO, DOLLY! (funnily, Streisand starred in the movie adaption of H,D! several years later).
In 1966, the show made its West End premiere at the Prince of Wales Theatre with Barbra Streisand still in the title role. However, her understudy Lisa Shane had to finish the show’s London run after Streisand fell pregnant. The show didn’t really make a return to the stage until 30 years later when a US tour launched with Debbie Gibson in the leading role, but the tour ended prematurely after only one stop on its proposed 30 stop journey.
In 1968, the famous film adaptation we all know and love materialised into the world with perfection. Isobel Lennart adapted the book from the stage production to make for the book of the film and Ray Stark returned to produce the movie, which also starred Barbra Streisand who went on to win the Oscar for her performance (which she shared with Katherine Hepburn that year). Omar Shariff famously took on Brice’s lover Nicky Arnstein in the film as well and it’s now considered to be a cult classic and a favourite among lovers of musical movies (I know it’s one of mine!) A sequel to the film was also made in 1975 entitled FUNNY LADY, which followed Brice’s later life.
And now, in 2015, the show makes it way to the Menier Chocolate Factory for its first major revival starting performances on November 20th. The sold-out run, which broke Menier Chocolate Factory box office records, concludes on March 6th before heading to the Savoy Theatre in the heart of the West End for a run currently planned to be from April 9th to July 12th. Priority booking is slated to open on November 9th before general sale on November 16th - HOW EXCITING!
This is definitely going to be the performance of a lifetime and I for one cannot wait to have a second shot to get my hands on at least one pair of tickets to this outstanding show; I just worry for the major competition between Gypsy and Funny Girl in the Best Musical Revival and Best Leading Actress in a Musical categories at the Olivier’s next year!