People, people who see ‘Funny Girl,’ are the luckiest people in the world’ ‘Vigils’ rains on your parade
HEART AND SOULLESS
Funny Girl, Irving Arts Center, 3333 N. MacArthur Blvd., Irving. Through Sept. 20. $35â€“$50.
Vigils, The MAC, 3120 McKinney Ave. Through Oct. 10. $10â€“$30. KitchenDogTheater.org.
I may be risking life and limb saying this, but here goes: Funny Girl does not require Barbra Streisand to be good.
There it is; it’s out there now. Don’t send James Brolin to beat me up and steal my toaster oven.
Yes, Babs became a star — and began her rise as our favorite gay icon — playing Ziegfeld Follies comedienne Fanny Brice on Broadway and in the movie, but the role is a juicy one for any actress not considered "TV pretty." (Fanny was barely "radio pretty.")
Kristin Dausch, who plays Brice in Lyric Stage’s positively splendid, old-timey barnburner of a musical, looks even more like the moon-faced vaudevillian than Streisand, but even if she slinked onstage like Beyonce in "Single Ladies," she has the pipes to make you appreciate her talent on its own.
Funny Girl is basically Hairspray without the booger jokes: Homely-but-gifted girl meets hot guy (here, gambler Nick Arnstein, played by dreamboat Christopher Pinella) despite the "What does he see in her?" reaction; troubles ensue. Its appeal hinges largely on the likeability of its defiantly unlikeable heroine. (The score is by Jule Styne, and it’s sort of an unofficial stepsister of Gypsy, also about a driven stage entertainer.)
And that’s where this version soars. Dausch, a human rocket who looks like Rachel Dratch and sings like Ethel Merman, dominates with her goofy good cheer, then immediately wows with her vocal prowess. She makes "People" her own, and the Act 1 closer, "Don’t Rain on My Parade," is as thrilling as all get-out.
Dausch would be reason enough to see the show, but director Cheryl Denson gives other reasons, too. The show’s theatrical roots allow it to be bombastic without feeling contrived (even in extraneous numbers like "Cornet Man" and "Find Yourself a Man"), meaning lots of splashy production numbers and over-the-top performances by Lois Sonnier-Hart and Connie Coit. But it’s adorable Jeremy Dumont, hoofing himself into a frenzy of Morse Code, who gives Dausch a run for her money. If Vaudeville were ever really this good, it would never have died.
By contrast, Vigils probably could have killed Vaudeville on its own. Noah Haidle’s prickly, pretentious navel-gazer at Kitchen Dog Theater wants to explore the nature of grief, but is so repetitive and trite as to merely inflict grief upon its audience. This metaphysical comedy has no good jokes, and its stabs at existentialism are the trite musings of a young man who thinks she know what middle aged regret looks like. He doesn’t. Albee can barely pull off this stuff, and Haidle’s no Albee. •
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 18, 2009.