Spectacular Broadway Musical Funny Girl at the Ahmanson and Hysterical Fat Ham at the Geffen

Mrs. Brice fully supports her daughter Fanny (Melissa Manchester and Katerina McCrimmon) in believing “I’m the Greatest Star” in the national tour of Funny Girl at the Ahmanson Theatre through April 28. (Photo by Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade)

Move over, Barbra. There’s a new Fanny Brice in town, and her name is Katerina McCrimmon – and she is absolutely fabulous bringing the iconic figure of musical theatre magic to stages across America during the first national tour in 60 years of the hit Broadway musical Funny Girl. And how lucky are the people of Los Angeles to be able to experience one of the greatest musicals of all time now at the Ahmanson Theatre through Sunday, April 28. Get your tickets soon because trust me, they are going fast and no one is going to be able to rain on this extraordinarily talented woman’s parade to stardom!   

From the moment the curtain rises, Ms. McCrimmon fills the theater with her physical comedy stylings and her dynamic belting ability, doing justice to all the songs which have become mainstays in modern musical theatre, including “People,” “Don’t Rain on my Parade,” “I’m the Greatest Star,” ‘His Love Makes Me Beautiful,” “You are Woman, I am Man,” and her ode to married ladies “Sadie, Sadie.” 

And who wouldn’t want to marry the tall and handsome Nick Arnstein, played with enough swagger and bravado by Stephen Mark Lukas to make audience members swoon every time he and Fanny demonstrate the power of their love and sexual attraction? We so much want their marriage to succeed, even though we see from the very beginning that Nick’s gambling habit is eventually going to pull them apart. It just takes awhile for Fanny to catch on and take ahold of her own life’s reins. And thanks to the great magnetism of McCrimmon’s performance, we are 100 percent on Fanny’s side no matter what she does.

That also applies to her devoted mother, played by the Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter Melissa Manchester who, after turning down the role of Fanny Brice after it was offered to her by composer Jules Styne in the ‘80s, now steps into the shoes of Mrs. Brice. Manchester shares in program notes that “being a mom and a grandma now makes it easy for me to sound like all of the women I grew up with; she sounds like all of my aunts!” And as Fanny states, “You can take a girl out of Brooklyn, but you can never take Brooklyn out of the girl.” It seems that once on Henry Street, always on Henry Street!

When Fanny talks her way into an audition for Florenz Ziegfeld (Walter Coppage) who brushes her off for not being pretty or shapely enough to be a Follies girl, a fire is lit within Fanny to launch into “I’m The Greatest Star” which showcases her overwhelming belief that she will eventually make it to Broadway. And that she does. But first, her mother joins in, sharing Fanny’s belief that she is the Greatest Star with an energetic, duo belting reprise of the song.  

At the Ziegfeld audition, Fanny also meets tap dancer extraordinaire Eddie Ryan (Izaiah Montague Harris who earns his every moment dancing in the spotlight) who takes her under his wing – sealing his lifelong friendship with her and her mother.  And as Fanny’s career explodes worldwide, Eddie and Mrs. Brice celebrate her fame and fortune with a rousing dance routine to “We Taught Her Everything She Knows,” which earned them a well-deserved standing ovation.

The entire cast is to be commended for their dedication to bringing the glitz and glamour of Broadway during its heyday to the stage, gorgeously costumed in spectacular sequined dazzlers by Susan Hilferty. David Zinn’s movable set pieces allow the many scenes to flow smoothly, with Fanny getting several opportunities to stand in front the curtain and do comedy numbers for her appreciative fans. And thanks to Kevin Adams lighting design, Ms. McCrimmon most assuredly knows how to make the most of her every second in the spotlight.

Kudos to director Michael Mayer, Music Supervisor Michael Rafter, Music Director/Conductor and Keyboardist Elaine Davison and her 16 top notch musicians who remind us all why Funny Girl has stood the test of time and will continue to do so for generations to come, Tap Choreography by Ayodele Casel, and Choreography by Ellenore Scott fill the stage with enough wonder to pull in even the youngest audience members. Their combined talents make this national touring production one not to be missed.

Funny Girl with music by Jules Styne, Lyrics by Bob Merrill, Book by Isobel Lennart with revised book by Harvey Fierstein is so spectacular that performances are bound to sell out nationwide. So hurry and get your tickets for performances through Sunday, April 28 at the Ahmanson Theatre at The Music Center, 135 N. Grand Avenue in Downtown L.A. 90012, through CenterTheatreGroup.org, Audience Services at (213) 972-4400 or in person at the Center Theatre Group Box Office at the Ahmanson Theatre. A full schedule, tickets and more information are available at www.centertheatregroup.org. The touring company production will also perform at Segerstrom Center for the Arts from May 28 to June 9, 2024. Tickets and information at www.scfta.org 

Opal, Tio, and Juicy (Adrianna Mitchell, Chris Herbie Holland & Marcel Spears) enjoy a moment of fun amid the emotional turmoil in Fat Ham at the Geffen Playhouse. (Photo credit: Jeff Lorch.)

Kudos to playwright James lJames on adapting Shakespeare’s great tragedy Hamlet into the hysterically funny comedy Fat Ham now onstage at the Geffen Playhouse in Westwood. Just image the classic tale about your mother marrying your uncle soon after the death of your father, the groom’s brother, set on Scenic Designer Maruti Evans’ authentically realistic backyard patio of a Black family’s home somewhere in the southern mid-Atlantic states, with Juicy as the troubled son struggling with his “softness” both in appearance, attitude, and will to do something about the situation. And then image the whole thing played for laughs! 

Under the brilliant direction of Sideeq Heard, the original Broadway cast is bringing the excitement and laughter of the 2022 Pulitzer Prize for Drama winner, which was also nominated for five Tony Awards including Best Play, to Los Angeles to give us the full experience of seeing a Broadway show in NYC. And they have succeeded tenfold!

The cast features sexy, short-shorts wearing Nikki Crawford as Tedra and Billy Eugene Jones as Rev (the Gertrude and Claudius of the play), with Jones also playing his brother Pap’s ghost with great dramatic flair, appearing in clouds of smoke and then disappearing through the stage floor several times to wondrous and laughable effect thanks to Illusions Designer Skylar Fox; Marcel Spears as the tormented, young and queer Juicy (who often speaks quotes from Hamlet as asides to the audience), a true Mama’s boy haunted by his father’s ghost to revenge his murder at the hands of his brother; and the energic Chris Herbie Holland as Tio, Juicy’s hard drinking and partying friend (based on Horatio) who first sees the ghost and is the only survivor at the end of Shakespeare’s tragedy, which he reminds us is not the case in Fat Ham.

Joining in for the post-wedding backyard BBQ, charades, and karaoke are the magnificently decked out in purple Banja Kay Thomas (thanks to costume designer Dominque Fawn Hill) as the outspoken and flamboyant Rabby; Adrianna Mitchell as her daughter, the spiritual, younger and more independent Opal (a much stronger backboned Ophelia than the original); and Matthew Elijah Webb as Larry (Laertes), a soldier who returns from the battlefield, eager to shed the upstanding image he has been maintaining and dominate the stage as the over-the-top entertainer he really wants to be in the show-stopping, big Broadway disco finale which will take you by surprise!

See what the New York Times calls “a hilarious yet profound tragedy smothered in comedy” by getting tickets to the West Coast premiere of Fat Ham continuing through May 5 in the Gil Cates Theater at Geffen Playhouse. Tickets start at $30, available by phone at 310.208.2028 or online at www.geffenplayhouse.org. All Geffen Playhouse productions are intended for an adult audience; children under ten years of age will not be admitted. Rush tickets for each day’s performance are made available to the public one hour before showtime at the box office. $35 General/$15 Student with ID.