From Isobel Lennart's published play script:
FUNNY GIRL is based on incidents in the life of Fanny Brice shortly before and after World War I. The action takes place in various theaters, on stage and backstage, on New York's Lower East Side; in Baltimore; and on Long Island.
Backstage in her dressing room at the New Amsterdam Theatre where she is a reigning Ziegfeld star, Fanny Brice (Barbra Streisand) sits thoughtfully at her dressing table ... Fanny knows that soon her husband, Nick Arnstein, will be coming home after serving a prison sentence, and she must make a decision about their future. As she ponders her problem, the sights and the sounds of her past come back to her.
First, she remembers herself as a stagestruck teenager ... Fanny's mother (Kay Medford), sharp-tongued but sympathetic, and her poker-playing lady friends try to make the girl com to her senses (If a Girl Isn't Pretty).
But Fanny hardly hears them as she frantically dresses for an audition at Keeney's Music Hall. Although she is quickly turned down, Fanny does find a good friend in vaudeville hoofer Eddie Ryan (Danny Meehan). Once outside the theatre, she practically overwhelms Eddie with her iron will to succeed and her unshakable confidence in herself (I'm the Greatest Star).
Eddie agrees to coach her in singing and dancing, and they spend night after night going over routines.
Fanny's first break comes when Keeney puts her in the singing lead of a ragtag ragtime number called Cornet Man.
She wows the audience, and among those offering congratulations backstage is the formally-attired Nick Arnstein (Sydney Chaplin), who had come to the theatre to pay off a gambling debt to Keeney.
Fanny is quickly smitten with the elegant Mr. Arnstein, but she has little time for mooning over him because producer Florenz Ziegfeld has sent her a telegram offering her a spot in his current Follies. Back at her mother's house, Eddie and Mrs. Brice both take pride in what they have done to help Fanny along the way (Who Taught Her Everything).
Over at the New York Theatre, where Ziegfeld issues commands from a booth in the rear of the balcony, the Follies company is preparing an elaborate “Bridal Finale,” which Fanny proceeds to play for laughs when the number is presented during an actual performance (His Love Makes Be Beautiful).
Nick Arnstein is again on hand to offer congratulations after the show, and he is invited to go along to Mrs. Brice's opening night block party on Henry Street (I Want to Be Seen With You Tonight).
After the party has been in progress for a while (Henry Street), Fanny and Nick get a chance to be alone, and find themselves being drawn together because of their need for each other (People).
Nick, however, must dash away to a horse farm in Kentucky that he has just bought. Some months later, they meet again in Baltimore, where Fanny is touring in the Follies, and they have a private dinner at an exclusive restaurant (You Are Woman).
That does it. Fanny just cannot leave Nick now. At the railroad station, as the Follies company is preparing to board the train for Chicago and Nick is to catch one for New York, Fanny flatly decides to quit the tour and to follow Nick. She feels that this is her one real chance for happiness and is determined not to let anything stand in her way (Don't Rain on My Parade).
After their marriage, Fanny and Nick move into a mansion on Long Island. Their friends welcome them with a surprise party, and Fanny regales them all with her enthusiastic description of the joys of married life (Sadie, Sadie).
Some time later, in Mrs. Brice's home, Eddie and a neighbor, Mrs. Strakosh (Jean Stapleton), try to talk Fanny's mother into looking for a husband now that her daughter has become a Ziegfeld star (Find Yourself A Man).
During rehearsal of a new Follies, Nick approaches Ziegfeld backstage to put money into a gambling casino that he plans to build in Florida. Ziegfeld refuses, but Fanny insists on putting up the necessary capital. Since we are now in the World War I period, it is appropriate that the Follies have a rousing military finale called Rat-Tat-Tat-Tat. The routine features tap dancers in soldier uniforms, show girls in costumes representing the Allies, and Fanny Brice as an outlandish Private Schwartz from Rockaway.
The only thing that spoils Fanny's opening night is that Nick has not shown up. When he does come to see her in the dressing room after the performance, he tells Fanny the grim news that the gambling casino venture has failed and he has lost all of her money.
Because Fanny makes light of it, Nick's pride is hurt and he complains that she treats him like a child. Fanny, for the first time, begins to have doubts about their relationship (Who Are You Now?).
A few weeks later, Fanny again tries to help her husband by secretly putting up the money to make him a partner in a talent agency. Nick, however, rejects the proposal when he finds out what Fanny has done. Incensed that he is so dependent upon his wife, Nick, in desperation, gets involved in a shady bond deal.
It is not long before Nick is arrested for embezzlement. Backstage at the New Amsterdam, Mrs. Brice makes Fanny realize her responsibility for what has happened. With a heavy heart, Fanny goes onstage to sing a Follies song, The Music That Makes Me Dance, which becomes her own admission of what Nick means to her.
The final scene, Fanny's dressing room, is a continuation of the first scene of the play. Nicky, just out of prison, enters. While they still love each other deeply, it is obvious that their marriage can bring only unhappiness to both of them.
Reluctantly—but inevitably—they part. Fanny courageously resolves to pick up her life again (Don't Rain on My Parade, reprise).
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