MIDDLEBURY — Sensational. Powerful. Delightful. Heart-wrenching. Laugh out loud funny.
The Middlebury Community Players’ production of Funny Girl has one-upped Hollywood, out-staged Broadway and, much like the character she plays as Fanny Brice, unleashed a new star to the Middlebury stage — Kim Anderson.
The show, which opened last Thursday at the Town Hall Theater and continues this weekend, tells the story of comedienne Fanny Brice and her rise from the slums of New York to stardom in the Ziegfeld Follies.
Anderson is the Fanny Brice that Barbra Streisand couldn’t be. She has the perfect physique, tall and slender; a comedic face (63 expressions she says), yet striking and beautiful. Her voice is bold and brassy when she belts out classics like “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” “I’m the Greatest Star” and “The Music That Makes Me Dance,” and touching in songs like “People” and “Who Are You Now.”
But it’s Anderson’s commanding stage presence as the comedic Fanny Brice that steals the show. She is masterful throughout. Her sense of timing is brilliant; her expressions, priceless; her dramatic flare, perfect.
Anderson, who has made the trek to Middlebury from her Williston home for the past three months, embodies a newly imagined Fanny Brice that one can envision taking Broadway by storm, yet few have had the guts to try.
Director Doug Anderson notes that while “Broadway loves to recycle hit shows,” Funny Girl has never been revived on Broadway. He attributes that, in part, to the “long shadow” cast by Streisand.
He describes the challenge brilliantly in his director’s notes.
“Funny Girl opened in 1964, ran for over 1,300 performances, and Streisand became associated with the part forever,” he wrote.
“That’s not necessarily a good thing. Streisand’s performance, captured on an early original cast album and then immortalized in a hit film, is hard to shake off. In the popular imagination, Fanny Brice is Barbra Streisand, and actors and audiences have begun to expect that the only way to do the role is the way Streisand did it.
“And that’s a mistake. The challenge for any performer is to find a fresh take on a role, to come to it with fresh eyes and ears. I think our brilliant Fanny, Kim Anderson, has done just that. Her performance is marvelous, creative, funny, heart-breaking — and it is very much her own creation.”
She is not the only standout.
Christopher Hart is cast perfectly as Nick Arnstein, Fanny’s love. Handsome, sophisticated and worldly, he is everything Fanny isn’t and a love come true, but he’s also a gambler who wins big and loses even bigger. Hart captures Arnstein’s flawed character to a tee, but also opens a window into a proud man’s undoing under Brice’s irrepressible personality and her overwhelming success.
Leif Erickson plays the part of dance instructor Eddie Ryan well, Glenn Andres captures the spirit of Florenz Ziegfeld, and Linda Brownell is a standout as Mrs. Brice, Fanny’s mother in the play, and in real life, too.
The cast of dancers, Keeney girls, Ziegfeld girls and the chorus, as well as a well-designed set, added polish, professionalism and energy to the show — a trademark of productions under the direction of Doug Anderson.
For that alone, it is a show to see.
But it can’t be left there. This fresh, vibrant, very funny — and dramatic — interpretation of Fanny Brice by Kim Anderson just can’t be overplayed. She knocks it out of the park. Not since the Community Players’ production of Chicago has the Town Hall Theater stage witnessed such a stunning performance.
“It may not be surprising that no one has been brave enough to attempt that on Broadway,” director Anderson says of Streisand’s lock on the character. “But Kim is fearless — and that may be the biggest thing she has in common with the real Fanny Brice.”
“Funny Girl” plays at Middlebury’s Town Hall Theater this Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets are $20 and may be purchased at townhalltheater.org, 382-9222, or at the THT box office.