If you follow “Our Reviews” on DC Theatre Scene you have already seen Debbie Jackson‘s positive review of the American Century Theater’s production of this show which runs through November 27 at the Rosslyn Spectrum. If you follow “Their Reviews” on the site you may also have found a link to my less positive review of the show. Or you may have read Joel Markowitz’s interview of Esther Covington who plays Fanny Brice in the show. Both reviews and the interview, however, give you a feel for the material Chip Deffa’s script provides for the one woman who plays Fanny Brice in this bio musical.
Bruce Yeko’s record label, Original Cast Records, has released an album of the show as performed by a different actress than the one performing at the Spectrum. The recording features Kimberly Faye Greenberg in the persona of Fanny Brice. Greenberg is the actress who has been appearing off-Broadway beside Brian Childers for the past year in the Danny Kaye bio-musical developed at the American Century Theater, Danny & Sylvia.
It is difficult to determine if Greenberg’s performance is better or worse than Covington’s at the Spectrum because, while enough spoken material is included in the recording to follow the story of Brice’s life, the studio recording gives little clue as to how well the vocalist might captivate an audience … and it is precisely that talent in Fanny Brice that made her a star for over forty years.
Still, if you come away from Covington’s performance wishing you had a souvenir of the Fanny Brice songs she either just introduced you to or renewed your acquaintance with, Original Cast Records OC3831 will fill the bill. Also, if you happen to miss Covington’s three week stint in the piece but you wish you could have had this primer on the career and off-stage life of the star who inspired Funny Girl, you can use the disc and the accompanying liner notes to familiarize yourself with both story and song from the career that went from vaudeville to Ziegfeld Follies to radio in headline-making steps.
The prime Brice material is all here. “Baby Won’t You Please Come Home” gets a particularly strong reading by Greenberg which is interesting because it is the same song that Covington sells most convincingly at the Spectrum.
Some important numbers are given brief statements. These numbers, like “A Pretty Girl Is Like A Melody” which sets up the standards of the Ziegfeld Follies for the show, serve their purpose in the storytelling but aren’t drawn out any longer than necessary. Others, like “Ja-Da” and “That Mysterious Rag” serve as frameworks for short vignettes in quick succession that move the narrative of Miss Brice’s life forward rapidly.
It is the more famous standards that are part of the Brice legacy that make this recording tempting to those wanting a quick reference to all things Brice. The two “Rose” specialties, “Rose of Washington Square” and “Second Hand Rose” are here in full renditions and the indispensable “My Man” is made all the more affecting because the relevance of the song to Brice’s disastrous relationship with Nicky Arnstein is interspersed between choruses.
Unlike the American Century Theater version of the show which had musical director Tom Fuller on stage at the piano as the only accompaniment, the recording has Greenberg being accompanied by pianist Mark Goodman and violinist Jonathan Russell. The violin does make the sound a bit richer, and Russell’s playing is tenderly supportive, but it is the vocal performance that dominates all of the 24 tracks of the album.