A Dozen “Funny Girls” at the Gem

A Dozen “Funny Girls” at the Gem

By Tom Titus

Say you’re directing a revival of “Funny Girl” and you’ve got the best singer/actress in Orange County available to play Fanny Brice. Do you round up 11 other ladies to share the leading role?

If you’re Damien Lorton, that’s exactly what you do. In the concert version of the biographical musical, now playing in an abbreviated two-weekend engagement at Garden Grove’s Gem Theater, there are, indeed, a dozen Fannies, each garbed in a bright red gown.

Lorton’s concept is interesting, and it works, sort of. But one still wishes that the inimitable Adriana Sanchez – who occupies the final 10 minutes and earns roaring applause for her rendering of “The Music That Makes Me Dance” – were portraying the “greatest star” for the entire show.

On a bare stage and backed by a 17-piece orchestra, the dozen actresses, young and old, take their best shots at bringing the legendary queen of the Ziegfeld Follies to life. Some do so with rip-roaring ribaldry, such as Andrea Goldin, returning to the stage after a decade’s absence, to celebrate as the newlywed Fanny in “Sadie, Sadie.”

The emphasis here is on the show’s musicality, and the Jule Styne-Bob Merrill score receives a rousing tribute from the band, under Lorton’s baton. On occasion, however, it’s a bit too rousing, drowning out those singers who can’t approach Sanchez’s lofty range.

The key plot line is Fanny’s relationship with flashy gambler Nick Arnstein, here smoothly depicted by Alex Bodrero, whose matinee-idol looks enhance his lovable loser character. His seduction of Fanny in the “You Are Woman, I Am Man” segment is particularly effective.

Tim Klega reigns over the proceedings with benevolent authority as master showman Florenz Ziegfeld. Brandon Taylor James is particularly impressive as Eddie Ryan, Fanny’s young buddy and undeclared admirer from the old neighborhood.

Beth Hanson, another local legend in musical theater, has a winning turn as Fanny’s mother, backed by her penny-ante poker-playing pals Carmen Tunis, Jeanne Cassesso and Mary-Pat Gonzalez. They mesh well with James’ Eddie in the comedic number “Find Yourself a Man.”

This concert version of “Funny Girl” – which closes Feb. 21 — launches the 2016 season of musical productions at the Gem. Upcoming shows include “Always Patsy Cline,” “Bye By Birdie” and “Sweeney Todd.” Prospective theatergoers can obtain more information by calling (714) 741-9550, ext. 221.

– tt –