Youth theater production of 'Funny Girl' charms

Saturday, June 28, 2003

"Funny Girl," the Lawrence Arts Center's Summer Youth Theatre's first production with actors in grades 8-12, is a perfect vehicle for aspiring thespians, giving them a chance to shine in a light-hearted -- and charmingly innocent -- musical.

It's the story of Fanny Brice, a Vaudeville actress who doesn't have the looks of other leading ladies (noted in the song "If a Girl Isn't Pretty"), but makes up for it in talent and bravado. The gal's got attitude coming out of her ears, and it's that attitude -- along with tireless ambition -- that takes her from mere chorus girl to bona fide star. Along the way there's self doubt, love triangles, lovers' quarrels and just about everything else you'd expect in a popular musical comedy.

"Funny Girl," music by Bob Merrill, and lyrics by Julie Styne, is perhaps best known for its association with Barbara Streisand, who starred in the original Broadway cast in 1964 and popularized the song "People," one of the show's best-known numbers. The accompaniment is primarily piano and drums, filled out with clarinet, percussion and more. Also featured are staples like "I'd Rather Be Blue" and "Don't Rain On My Parade."

The arts center has a large stage, and director Erin Girard and choreographer Kimber Andrews have filled it with a large cast of talented teens.

Lead actress Erin McDowell, 16, has enough presence to fill the whole stage herself. She seems to revel in Fanny's attitude and confidence, mugging to the audience. She perfectly pulls off Fanny's outspoken attitude and her awkwardness in intimate situations. McDowell and character actors Gabe Murphy and Kym Scafe (as Fanny's best friend and mother, respectively) anchor the rest of the cast. Murphy and Scafe's duet, "Who Taught Her Everything," is the show's standout number.

Also notable is the less-is-more approach to staging. Set designer Lee Saylor uses only stairs and a few small, roll-on sets for scenery.

"Funny Girl" will play again at 7:30 p.m. today and at 2 p.m. Sunday.