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A CurtainUp Review
One Night With Fanny Brice

The happiest moments of my life were spent on stage. So why shouldn't I want to hang around here? Offstage, I had headaches, I had insomnia, I had neuritis. I worried about my man. With Nicky Arnstein, there was always something to worry about. But you give me a chance to perform, anywhere, and-bam!-- everything feels like it's meant to be. It was like that for me, as far back as I can recall. — Fanny Brice.
Kimberly Faye Greenberg (Photo: Carol Rosegg)
One Night With Fanny Brice, a solo musical play written, arranged, and directed by Chip Deffaa, is making its Off-Broadway debut at St. Luke's Theatre. This is not the lavish film production you might remember starring Barbra Streisand at her gorgeous, most pristine voice and charismatic Omar Sharif. That show was Funny Girl. . It was produced by Fanny's son-in-law, Ray Stark, who sanitized the story to appease surviving family members, including the love of Fanny's life, Nicky Arnstein, still living in small apartment with her brother, Lew. Funny Girl was immensely popular, but true to Fanny Brice's life? Not so much.

Fanny Brice, born Fania Borach, was a determined, talented ham who became the first immensely successful crossover performer of the 20th century. With her trademark Yiddish accent, Brice became a well-loved singer, physical comic, and impersonator. Defaa presents his well-researched biomusical through Fanny Brice's memories.

Fanny (Kimberly Faye Greenberg) comes on stage as her own ghost to the tune "That Mysterious Rag" which she repeats throughout the play. Her strong-willed mother Rose, believed in mystery and convinced Fanny that she had a gift, "A little psychic something." Fanny herself claimed she saw ghosts. She was also influenced by her father whom she adored, "Pinochle Charlie," was a handsome, well-groomed dreamer who epitomized the plaintive song, "I'm Always Chasing Rainbows." He encouraged Fanny's singing but he frustrated the hard-working, independent Rose, leading her to finally pack up the children and move from Newark, N.J. to Brooklyn.

Fannie continued to idolize Charlie, even after falling in love with Nicky Arnstein, another charming gambler and swindler. What she went through with that guy! She had two other husbands and three divorces, but Nicky was the one she adored despite his abuse of her generosity.

The show follows Fanny into show business, beginning with her first amateur contest with brother Lew. After having coins thrown at her feet for singing, she quit school to work in stock companies, burlesque, the Ziegfeld Follies, theater, films, and radio, delivering pop songs, dancing and comedy. Becoming the highest-paid American singing comedienne of her day, she was in the middle of her popular radio show about the wisecracking kid, "Baby Snooks" when she suffered a massive stroke and died at age 59.

Kimberly Faye Greenberg unveils the vulnerability often hidden beneath the funny girl façade. You may want to shake her for falling once again for Nicky's line, you have to admit the lady was loyal. Greenberg doesn't look anything like Brice but she delivers her songs in a similar wide vibrato and a lusty belt, has a tenacious tap dance technique, and tosses out quips with offhand charm.

Defaa has deftly set up the scenes to lead into just the right song. There are , over 20 of them including "I'm an Indian," to displayBrice's wacky physicality, "Rose of Washington Square," a gutsy tune about a singer's struggles, and the popular, "Second Hand Rose." The most poignant renditions are those associated with Arnstein — "You Made Me Love You." and the masochistic weeper "My Man."

Fanny Brice embraced the vitality of the early American stage but with a production this spare, the narrative sometimes falls into a mechanical rhythm enlivened only by the songs and dances. Josh Iacovelli has designed a functional set that displays show biz intent with two poster panels of Fanny Brice, a piano, and a ghost light. Video projections of events and legendary characters living between the two World Wars. would have been helpful. Renee Purdy has dressed Greenberg like an early flapper in Act I and a plain black dress that was too short and contemporary for the 1930's and '40's in the second act. . Musical director Richard Danley on piano and violinist Jonathan Russell deliver the tinny accompaniment that fit Brice's early career, although it sounded a bit skimpy for her Ziegfeld Follies days.

An ASCAP Award-winning writer/director, Chip Deffaa continues to keep alive the excitement and drama of the years when popular entertainment was taking its baby steps. One Night With Fanny Brice, celebrates the essence and gusto of one talented American entertainer. She was pals with everyone —, Jolson, Ziegfeld, and Gypsy Rose Lee —, but her own roots remained grounded with "Pinochle Charlie" and her mama, Rose.

One Night With Fanny Brice
Written by Chip Deffaa
Directed by Chip Deffaa

Cast: Kimberly Faye Greenberg
Set Design: Josh Iacovelli
Lighting Design: Graham Kindred
Costume Design: Renee Purdy
Choreographer: Justin Boccitto
Musical Direction: Richard Danley
Presented Off-Broadway: Edmund Gaynes
Running Time: 2 hours. 15 min. intermission
St. Luke's Theater, 308 W. 46 St. (between Eighth & Ninth Avenues).
Tickets: $36.50 and $59.50 212-239-6200.
Performances: Every Wed. Sat. at 3pm. Sun. at 3:00 PM, and 7:00 PM.
From 03/16/11. Opens 4/3/11. Open ended.
Review by Elizabeth Ahlfors based on performance 3/27/11

Musical Numbers Act One:
1. That Mysterious Rag
2. I'm Always Chasing Rainbows
3. Bill Bailey, Won't You Please Come Home?
4. Will You Love Me in December as You Do in May?
5. I'm Sorry I Made You Cry" (underscore)
6. When You Know You're Not Forgotten by the Girl You Can't Forget
7. Be My Little Baby Bumble Bee
8. Grizzly Bear
9. Be My Little Baby Bumble Bee"-Reprise
10. Lovie Joe
11. Rose of Washington Square
12. I'm Always Chasing Rainbows-Reprise
13. You Made Me Love You
14. I'm an Indian
15. Oh! How I Hate that Fellow Nathan
16. That Mysterious Rag"-Reprise
Musical Numbers Act Two:
17. Second Hand Rose
18. Baby Won't You Please Come Home
19. A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody
20. Ja-Da
21. My Man
22. My Man-Reprise
23. After You've Gone
24. Rose of Washington Square-Reprise
25. Bows Music: Rose of Washington Square
26. Exit Music: I'm Sorry I Made You Cry
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