Funny Girl Makes Julie Benko a Star
As everyone knows Beanie Feldstein is out of Funny Girl this weekend for a friend’s wedding. She’s scheduled to return on Tuesday. To make matter’s worse Ramin Karimloo, who plays Nicky Arnstein is out for 10 days, so he’s not in the show until May 8th. He tested positive for COVID right after opening night.
Now, don’t be sad because the rumor is Julie Benko, Feldstein’s standby, is FABULOUS. To quote “She’s No Longer A Gypsy” from Applause “She got up early and pulled a Shirley MacLaine.”
Here are quotes from the chat rooms:
A star is born! She’s like buttah! Truly, incredible performance so far.
Intermission and she is INCREDIBLE! It’s like a whole new show! Broadway has finally found its Fanny Brice!
With Julie, you get a real “Fanny”. She nails the book scenes, she completely nails the score and she just has that “it” thing that really brings the character to life. At times she even looks like the real Brice. She had tears in her eyes while singing “People” and then again singing “Music That Makes Me Dance” – you could see an actress whose dream was coming true.
She was a revelation. By the end of Act I she had the audience delighted with her strong bell-tone voice and charming characterization. It was incredible to watch her build on that during Act II. The last twenty minutes she expertly went from anxious to relieved to devastated to resiliently hopeful. It was amazing to watch the multiple emotions flash subtly over her face. By the end of the show she had tears streaming.
It’s been awhile since I’ve seen such a strong, detailed performance. She really is terrific.
The overall production last night was fantastic. It’s amazing what a different Fanny can do for that show. It was exhilarating. Julie was a damn star. Watching her do “Greatest Star” was like watching someone finally have their moment they’ve been waiting for their whole life. She was on fire. She was absolutely hilarious. I felt like she did her research and found ways of paying homage to the real Fanny Brice’s comedy styles, especially with facial expressions. And she did this without copying Barbra or Beanie. I was blown away. She truly had the comedy down throughout the whole show and she is such a master of her voice. She was touching so many different tones and colors of her voice that let her wow us in her ballads but also entertain us in the comedic songs.
Then there is Julie. This luminous, brilliant woman became a star last night. She was funny, charming, sharp and that voice? That is how the score is supposed to sound. Highlights for me (no surprise) were “People” and “Don’t Rain on my Parade”. I saw her become a DIVA as the show progresses and it was compeletely believable, authentic and thrilling. The audience just loved her and I think saw what I was seeing. How lucky were we all to witness this.
I was cancelled out of reviewing, until after May 8th, due to Ramin, getting sick, but it seems to me a star is being birthed and hopefully one of my reviewers can get to the show tomorrow. Sadly I am booked for another show or I would be there, as I love witnessing greatness.
Ken Fallin’s Broadway: Sondheim
Stephen Sondheim birthday was March 22nd and somehow I missed it. His masterpiece Sweeney Todd opened on Broadway originally March 1, 1979, at the Uris Theatre (now the Gershwin). His newest revival opened Sunday, March 26th at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre. So here’s to you Steve.
Broadway’s Parade, a Masterpiece and Master Class, Not to be Missed.
With a blast of bright white light, the Broadway revival of Parade marches itself forcibly onto the stage, surging from the sidelines once the love-making center stage comes to an end. It’s a compelling beginning, one that, as it turns out, doesn’t really add a whole lot to the proceedings. But the show finds its strong footing soon after. No doubt about it. I didn’t really understand the full need for the sexual interaction between the young soldier (Charlie Webb) and his pretty young companion (Ashlyn Maddox) that takes place in those first few moments, as well as the consistent reappearing of that same soldier, 50 years later, as an old man (Howard McGillin) throughout, other than to remind us that the old Confederate way of thinking still flies its flag strong and true. Even if the flags they are waving in this production of Parade make us feel uneasy and unsure.
Overall, the compounding effect is captivating and intense, as this musical, with a book by Alfred Uhry (Driving Miss Daisy), music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown (Songs for a New World; The Last Five Years), and originally co-conceived by Harold Prince (West Side Story), stands strong, taking on race, antisemitism, and prejudice in “The Old Red Hills of Home” South. It dutifully dramatizes the disturbing but true story of a 1913 trial of a Jewish factory manager who was wrongly accused and convicted of raping and murdering a thirteen-year-old young girl and employee of the factory. The musical revival is as timely as can be, and as surefooted as one could hope for. And as directed carefully and artistically by Michael Arden (Broadway/Deaf West’s Spring Awakening), Parade delivers on all fronts.
After a well-received short run as part of New York City Center’s Encores! series, this tense and sharp musical finally has made its way back. I didn’t really know much about this musical, but I was surprised to hear that it first premiered on Broadway in December 1998 starring Brent Carver and Carolee Carmello in the two lead roles. It won Tony Awards for Best Book and Best Original Score (out of nine nominations), not surprisingly, and six Drama Desk Awards. And I’m guessing the accolades will come pouring in once again when the Tony Award nominations are announced.
Portraying that doomed factory manager, Leo Frank, Ben Platt (Broadway’s Dear Evan Hansen) once again finds power and passion in abundance, striding back onto the Broadway stage both sheepishly and strongly. He grabs hold of the part, demanding justice and the truth for the man who tried his imperfect best to live a dutiful life. Married to his loving wife, Lucille, played spectacularly by Micaela Diamond (Broadway’s The Cher Show), the pair seems well-matched, both in their characterizations and their vocal expertise. Their singing and emotionality soar, especially in Lucille’s “You Don’t Know This Man” and Leo’s captivating Statement, “It’s Hard to Speak my Heart“, as the piece gets darker and darker, breaking apart our collective hearts as it marches to the end. We all know this is not going to end well for this innocent man, but we are drawn in completely as the two begin, quite quietly, finding a simple and tender, yet complicated connection in their marriage.
We feel their bond as Leo gets ready and makes his way to the office on this odd day of celebration in Atlanta. He sidesteps the parade, which is oddly celebrating the confederacy and a war lost, leaving his wife to picnic alone. We collectively wish he’d stay home, giving in to the gentle pleas of his wife. Things might have turned out so differently if he had. But this is the tale that must be told, to be witness to, as we are simultaneously given a glimpse into the soon-to-be shortened life of Mary Phagan (Erin Rose Doyle), being flirted with by a young boy (Jake Pedersen) about “The Picture Show“, as she rides a trolley car on her way to the factory to collect her wages, at ten cents an hour. The white balloon floats above her head, just like her spirit, simple and buoyant, until it escapes her hand, and floats away from her into the heavens above.
Broadway’s A Doll’s House Meticulously Stunning Revival Soars Like a Birdie Above That Clumsy Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
For a revival to find its footing, it has to have a point of view or a sense of purpose far beyond an actor’s desire to perform a part, whether it suits them or not. It needs to radiate an idea that will make us want to sit up and pay attention. To feel its need to exist. And on one particular day in March, I was blessed with the opportunity to see not just one grande revival, but two. One was a detailed pulled-apart revolutionary revival of Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House that astounded. The other, unfortunately, was a clumsy revival of Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof that fell lazily from that high-wired peak – not for a lack of trying, but from a formulation that never found its purpose.
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