‘Funny Girl’ as sunny as its inspiration

  • By Gale Fiege Herald Writer
  • Wednesday, July 9, 2014 1:33pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

Dispense with your memories of the 1964 Broadway hit or even the 1968 movie, both starring Barbra Streisand. She was great, but put her out of your mind.

See the Village Theatre’s version of the musical “Funny Girl” with fresh eyes and enjoy Sarah Rose Davis, a Seattle native, who does a fine job in the leading role.

The show opens tonight, July 11, and runs through Aug. 3 at the Everett Performing Arts Center.

Davis understands her role and does her best to steer clear of mimicking Streisand.

“Funny Girl” is based on the life and career of comedienne Fanny Brice, a Broadway and film star, and her stormy relationship with entrepreneur and gambler Nick Arnstein.

Set in New York before and after World War I, the tale of Brice’s journey from her Lower East Side tenement to the footlights and backstages of the Ziegfeld Follies is funny and sad, but ultimately hopeful. Brice knows that the show must go on.

The Follies were among the stage shows popular in the golden age of vaudeville, the forerunner of American musical theater. And, as director Steve Tomkins says, “Funny Girl” is one of the last of what many consider the “golden age” of musical theater.

This is the sort of show that many Village patrons would say the company does best. Village’s rendition is of Broadway quality with outstanding ensemble and orchestral work, costumes, sets and choreography.

Davis grew up doing Village’s KidStage and after graduating from the Boston Conservatory, she’s taken her turn on the stage at Seattle’s 5th Avenue, too.

Her colleagues say she is very disciplined, guarding her voice against over use. Before moving to Everett, Village staged the musical for seven weeks in Issaquah.

One of her best and best-known songs in the musical is “People,” which Streisand made popular beyond the lights of Broadway. Davis makes it hers.

Logan Benedict, as the handsome Nicky Arnstein, is longtime Village Theatre participant, but this is his first mainstage show. He, too, has some 5th Avenue credits.

John David Scott, as Fanny’s friend Eddie Ryan, is a great dancer and an even better physical comedian.

Other standouts include longtime Seattle-area actor Don Collins as Florenz Ziegfeld and newcomer Chelsea Lynne Myers as Fanny’s assistant (and the understudy for the role of Fanny).

Never intentionally, but frequently stealing scenes are Bobbi Kotula as Fanny’s mother Rose Brice, Jayne Muirhead as her neighbor Mrs. Strakosh and Rachel Wilkie and Laura Abel as their friends Mrs. Meeker and Mrs. O’Malley.

What’s best about Kotula and Muirhead is that they bring with them years of experience in the theater. Their nuanced performances are delightful.

“The little things are party of my joy in theater,” Muirhead said. “I have to get to the point where I think I am in this person’s skin.”

Muirhead remembers that in the 1960s she and her older sister enjoyed acting out scenes from “Funny Girl.”

It’s a musical that isn’t performed often anymore, but — outdated Jewish mother jokes aside — it’s still a classic.

A joke is only funny within the context of a scene, and the danger is playing it for a laugh, Muirhead said.

To help fill in the blanks, Muirhead and Kotula created a back story for their scenes together.

“My character wants to be right and validated and important as a good friend to Rose,” Muirhead said. “We decided that Mrs. Strakosh and Mrs. Brice are divorced, and this is at a time when that wasn’t common. They support each other through their difficulties, and they know who they are gossiping about. It helps create a silly energy.”

The longtime actor arrived in Seattle in the late 1970s and began appearing with the avant-garde Empty Space, Pioneer Square and Bathhouse theaters.

Muirhead is well known in the regional theater community for her versatile work.

Some of her hit shows include “Angry Housewives,” “Rocky Horror” and “Menopause, the Musical.”

However, her favorite job has been the 20 years acting with Seattle Children’s Theatre, one of the largest of its kind in North America.

It’s even more special when her grandchildren attend her performances, she said.

“My work with Village Theatre has been more recent,” Muirhead said. “I am totally tickled, grateful and pleased to appear in this big musical.

“And we love playing in Everett because it’s very clear to us that Everett audiences are glad we are there.”

Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; gfiege@heraldnet.com.

“Funny Girl”

Village Theatre’s “Funny Girl” is scheduled for 8 p.m. Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays and Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30 p.m. through Aug. 3 at Everett Performing Arts Center, 2710 Wetmore Ave. Call the box office at 425-257-8600.

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