Now Available: The diva-fabulous 1968 Barbra Streisand vehicle Funny Girl
Synopsis: Babs stars as Ziegfeld comedienne Fannie Brice. Life is candy and the sun's a ball o' buttah. ---
Rating: Five (out of five) gold-sequined hankies
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Remarks: Yes, buttah. In case you ever wondered, the classic SNL "Coffee Talk" shtick's origins can be traced here. The Bob Merrill/Jule Styne tune "Don't Rain on My Parade" was a hit in the mid-1960s after the show's success on Broadway, and remains one of Streisand's best-loved and most often-parodied songs -- second only, perhaps, to "People (Who Need People)," which also happens to be included in this score. (Personally, I'll take the rousing "Parade" over the schmaltzy "People" any day, but it just goes to show that this musical has plenty of show-stoppers.)
The movie adaptation is fabulous and I have loved it for decades.
That being said, as a movie, it's not easy to watch. Halfway through this two-and-a-half-hour behemoth, the plot gets thoroughly bogged down in Brice's swampy relationship with gambler/embezzler/ne'er-do-well Nicky Arnstein. The goddess Streisand is the one thing that keeps it going -- but, try as I might, I can never avoid glancing at the clock three or four times during the third act.
Part of the movie's late sluggishness might be due to casting. Omar Sharif's dashing mustache puts in a fine performance, but the rest of him never seems to show up in the role of Brice's swarthy and rather untrustworthy love interest. One gets the feeling Sharif's handlers allowed him to think Streisand was there to support him rather than the other way around. What else could explain the way Sharif was allowed to record his own disastrous vocals instead of being overdubbed the way West Side Story's tone-deaf stars were several years earlier? (Maybe Tucker Smith could have stepped in for Sharif, had he not been busy at the time with Hello, Dolly!)
Still, Funny Girl remains required viewing for every budding musical-theater queen. Those who manage to get all the way through it can look forward to the somewhat more accessible 1975 sequel Funny Lady. And, once you make it through both, Grasshopper, you'll have developed enough patience and internal fortitude to conquer expert-level musicals such as Star!, the excruciating if rewarding three-plus-hour Julie Andrews vehicle.