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The life of comedienne Fanny Brice, from her early days in the Jewish slums of the Lower East Side, to the height of her career with the Ziegfeld Follies, including her marriage to and eventual divorce from Nick Arnstein. Written by
Randy Goldberg <email@example.com>
Once upon a time I worshiped Barbra Streisand. There, I said it. That's over. For that matter, so is my love affair with Streisand. What happened to the heat and abandon she had in her first few albums, the ones with the fantastic versions of Harold Arlen ballads? Listening to her on the Broadway cast album of "Funny Girl" only makes us painfully aware of how much we lost when she decided to "act" the songs for us in the movie.
The night it opened in Cincinnati I sat with my best buddy vibrating with excitement (I can even tell you the color of the curtain that hung over the screen). By the end of the night I was actually depressed. Where were my favorite songs from the show? I was really looking forward to seeing her sing"Cornet Man" and it made me sick to see they replaced that great tune with something lame called "The Roller Skate Rag" that went "Thud!" (You're supposed to find it hysterically funny that Fanny messed up a line of third-rate singers and dancers by falling all over them because she couldn't skate.)
Because the star, herself, and the producers were sure no one wanted to see anyone but Barbra Streisand (and they had a point . . . sort of), they cut everyone else's numbers until the movie of "Funny Girl" was pretty much another Streisand TV special. After I saw the movie I wanted to do some cutting of my own, especially on the embarrassing "Swan Lake" number that replaced the satirical "Private Schwartz from Rockaway." I also wanted to cut everything but about 15 minutes of the second half of the film.
The Ziegfeld Follies numbers look like bad 1960's television, there is no chemistry in the love scenes between the wooden Omar Sharif and Streisand, Kay Medford is wasted, and whatever kept Fanny Brice growing as a legendary comedienne is dropped after the pleasantly silly "His Love Makes Me Beautiful." We get a quick flash of her in Baby Snooks drag when she takes on the reporters but that's all. (And, anyway, Fanny Brice didn't take up the Baby Snooks routine until years later.)
Instead of the rueful tune "Who Are You Now?" we got another mediocre replacement song, the "title" song "Funny Girl," which takes the focus of Fanny's heartbreak away from what she might be doing to her husband (out of love, albeit) and puts it on what all the suffering is doing to her. I suppose this should have told us in what direction Barbara Streisand was going like a runaway train.
Oh, there's no denying there are parts of the movie that show her off at her best, and that best can be very fine. Over forty years have gone by and she never again touched the bravado and power of her final number "My Man," even if that business about it being done in one take with her singing perfectly while crying is pure bull. For one thing, it is physiologically impossible. They took her vocal of "My Man" from off the "My Name is Barbra" album and dubbed it in with a new orchestral arrangement. The effect is great so it doesn't really matter except for the Star's dishonesty in perpetuating that story.
And when Streisand stops jumping all over the place and stands still to sing the last stanza of "I'm the Greatest Star" she's amazing, even if the post dubbing is terribly obvious.
I'm a sport, though. When "Funny Girl" was restored ten years ago I let a couple of friends talk me into seeing it again. I forgot it would mean nearly three hours of my life, but, as I said, I'm a sport. But, thirty-six years later, "Funny Girl" redux only made me painfully aware that I was right the first time.
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