Funny Girl on Broadway

Winter Garden Theatre

1634 Broadway (at West 50th Street)

New York, New York

March 26, 1964 — December 25, 1965 *

* Streisand's last performance in New York. The show continued on December 27, 1965 with Mimi Hines replacing Streisand as Fanny Brice.

Streisand in Funny Girl on Broadway

The Original Funny Girl

Before Barbra Streisand starred on stage and screen as Fanny Brice, there was the real Fanny Brice. [more on Fanny Brice]

Fanny Brice, Florenz Ziegfeld, and Nick Arnstein

From a 1976 Funny Girl program:

[The] real Fanny Brice, who was born in New York in 1891 ... became one of the brightest comediennes of the American musical theatre for some 25 years. She made her first stage appearance in Brooklyn in A Royal Slave and entered vaudeville in 1910. That same year she had her first assignment in a Ziegfeld show, and she was associated with that master showman of his time for the next 24 years.

Her first show for him was The Ziegfeld Follies of 1910, followed by Follies shows of 1911, 1916, 1917, 1917, 1921, 1934. Some of her other notable performances were in The Honeymoon Express, 1913; Nobody’s Home, 1915 in London; Why Worry? 1918; The Midnight Frolic, 1921; The Music Box Revue, 1924; Fanny, 1926; Fioretta, 1929; Sweet and Low, 1930.

As the musical relates, she married the celebrated gambler, Nicky Arnstein, and later divorced him. Another marriage was to the dynamic, diminutive producer, Billy Rose, and this, too, did not last.

She went to Hollywood in the 1930's and made innumerable films, many of them revue-type movies in which she performed her familiar sketches and songs. One of her most memorable screen appearances was portraying herself in The Great Ziegfeld, a movie biography of the great showman which had sequences relating his discovery of Fanny Brice, and gave her an opportunity to recreate her greatest Follies song hit, My Man.

It was through radio that Fanny Brice reached her largest audiences. She first had a very popular show in the mid-30's on which she performed a variety of comedy characters. The most beloved of these was Baby Snooks, which became a household favorite across the country. Soon Miss Brice was only performing as Baby Snooks on a weekly program of that name that continued as a television series in the 1940’s.

Fanny Brice died in 1951, leaving extremely happy memories with everyone who ever saw or heard her, of her uproarious comedy routines, of her poignant songs — and funny songs — of My Man, Second Hand Rose, Rose of Washington Square. Her singing was superb, her capacity at clowning even greater.

Nick Arnstein and Fanny Brice

(Above: The real Nick Arnstein and Fanny Brice.)

Ray Stark

Ray Stark, the producer of Funny Girl, was married to Fanny Brice's daughter, Frances (or Fran). It was his dream to make a musical about his mother-in-law’s life story. “We used to discuss doing a motion picture about her career,” Stark said. “We'd bring up various names of film actresses who could play her role. One suggestion in those years was Judy Garland. So, you can see this has been a long-range proposition with me; more than 10 years. After Fanny's death [in 1951], I kept on planning to do a film about her some day, and finally I got Isobel Lennart, one of the top screenwriters, to undertake the script.”

From a 1976 Funny Girl program:

Mr. Stark had previously commissioned treatments of [Fanny's] life from Ben Hecht and from Henry and Phoebe Ephron. There seemed to be a good deal of interest in Fanny Brice’s colorful life and career. Her third husband, the showman Billy Rose, wrote a story about her entitled A Girl Called Fanny that was published in McCall’s Magazine, and a record album in which singer-comedienne Kaye Ballard re-created Fanny Brice’s famous songs was enjoying great popularity.

Being married to Fanny Brice’s daughter, Ray Stark also had to retain firm control over the story so that none of its show business presentations could offend her heirs. To protect her image from any possible abuses, Mr. Stark bought out all future rights from anyone who had worked on the material, including the earlier writers whose treatments had already been rejected.

The real Fanny Brice and Streisand as the character

(Above left: Brice clowns as Baby Snooks with Bob Hope; Above right: Streisand as Snooks)

In a 1964 interview, Ray Stark explained: “[Lennart's] script was wonderful. But as the years passed and the motion picture business changed, I became interested in the stage, and I proved to myself with a couple of ventures that doing something first in the theater was a wonderful testing ground of material for an eventual film. That is why we are here now, with music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Bob Merrill, direction by Garson Kanin and choreography by Carol Haney. I hired the best.”

Art Isn't Easy (Creating “Funny Girl”) in Date Order

The Funny Girl creative team

Irene Sharaff (who designed the costumes for the Broadway and film versions of Funny Girl) described the show's journey succinctly: “With the tenacity of barracudas both Ray [Stark] and Barbra hung on to this potential hit for months on the road, through changes in the script, juggling of songs, two directors, and five postponements of the opening night in New York. For their hard work and determination, Ray was well rewarded. This musical, based on his mother-in-law Fanny Brice's earlier years and first successes, was a sensation. Barbra deservedly leapt to stardom and became the new idol of the adolescents.

Funny Girl cast works on script

(Above: Sydney Chaplin on the floor with writer Isobel Lennart and Streisand smoking a cigarette.)

(Below: A blurb in the February 1964 Bazaar magazine about Funny Girl and Streisand.)

Ticket info in the Times for Funny Girl

(Above: Newspaper clippings that show an earlier opening night date that was changed — Feb. 27, 1964; an illustration of Streisand as Fanny by Al Hirschfeld; some Funny Girl ticket stubs from 1964 and 1965—Streisand live for $6.90?! )

The Creative Team

Biographies for Styne, Merrill and Lennart

In the evening's program for Barbra's 1969 salute at the Friar's Club, Funny Girl's writer Isobel Lennart (pictured below) composed a full-page tribute to the star of Funny Girl. Here's what she wrote about working with Barbra on the play:

Photo of Isobel Lennart

Did I have trouble with Barbra? Don’t ask!

How would you like to write a libretto about a homely little girl, have what seemed to be a homely little girl engaged for the part —and then, the first time she has an audience — on opening night in Boston — have her turn beautiful in front of your eyes? And get more beautiful at every performance, so that — by opening time in New York — she’s obviously one of the great beauties of all time.

What do you think that did to all my ‘homely little girl’ jokes? And what about all the scenes explaining why the leading man fell in love with a homely little girl — how do you think they played to an audience in love with Barbra from the moment the curtain went up?

You’re right! I had to snip and shneid like a manic tailor! And that wasn’t all.

My other troubles with Barbra started quite soon after I met her — about ten minutes after.

It was my first show, so I was expecting trouble —from everyone but Barbra. A twenty-year-old kid, in her first starring part? Why, she’d be so happy to have it, so grateful, so overawed — there wouldn’t be a peep out of her that wasn’t thank you!

And here she was — pointing one of those mile-long fingers at a page in the libretto and saying “I liked your first version of this scene much better.”

Stalling while I thought up something devastating to say back, I glanced at the page. A minute later I put back the earlier version. Meekly. The twenty-year-old kid was right. And continued to be right, most of the time.

I was disarmed, and I don’t mean enchanted — I mean, without any armor. Without defences.

You can argue when an actor says “I hate this scene — it stinks.” But Barbra never did that. She just looked at the page and turned a delicate almond-green. And you can’t argue with green.

With some actors you can say: “You want a new scene? You don’t even know the old one, and you’ve had it for two months!” But how can you say that to Barbra? Get a new scene to her at two in the morning, and she’ll perform it perfectly the next night. I know. I did it for thirty nights in a row.

And then there’s the greatest of all writer gambits: “You don’t like that line? Fine! Write one yourself!”

I hate admitting publicly that I’m a coward, but I never — not once — dared say that to Barbra. I was too afraid that she could, that she would, and that it might — might, mind you — be a better line than mine.

Well — there it is. That’s the kind of trouble I had with Barbra. And if you’re a writer, it should only happen to you!

ISOBEL LENNART

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