Streisand's first starring role on Broadway in Funny Girl was a triumph for her. She played the show over 1,000 times in New York.
Composer David Shire (Starting Here, Starting Now) recalled: “I had the good fortune of being in the pit of Funny Girl for its second and third year. First as a pianist and then later as an assistant conductor. And that started my long relationship with Barbra Streisand, who’s recorded now six of the songs that Richard [Maltby] and I have written. It was so thrilling to hear Barbra Streisand sing ‘Don’t Rain on My Parade’ eight times a week. And she never, she rarely did it exactly the same way twice, which made it very challenging for those of us in the pit. Conducting with her was a little bit, you know, like a board game of some kind, ‘cause if you weren't right with her, you’d certainly get a note about it. But that song, which I believe has a range of something like an octave and a sixth, really shows off her voice and the tremendous range and power of it in all those ranges.”
David Shire also told writer Jennifer Ashley Tepper (Tales from the World's Most Famous Theaters, Volume 1) about his time conducting the show in the Funny Girl orchestra pit:
“After you play a show for a long time,” he explained, “you get so that you can almost play automatically. You know exactly when you need to get ready to play again, so in the meantime, you'd see a lot of magazines, newspapers, and paperbacks in the pit. And one day, one of the trombone players was reading Playboy. He was going through it, during a good part of "People."
“Barbra looked down and saw a centerfold unfolded in the pit. Immediately, we got a message that if Barbra ever saw anything like that distracting her from the stage, there would be no more reading in the pit. After that, everybody was a little more discreet.”
Barbra At The Winter Garden
Dressing Room & Stage Door
Below: Photographs of Streisand, captured at the Winter Garden stage door (1964—1965) by Funny Girl fans.
Below: Celebrities and V.I.P.s visit Streisand in her paisley-papered dressing room at the Winter Garden Theatre and backstage in London at the Prince of Wales Theatre.
Barbra's “Funny Girl” Playbills & Programs
In a 1964 radio interview, Streisand tried to explain the complex ideas she felt in playing Funny Girl for live audiences. Click the button below to listen to the interview:
A mere 21 years old, Streisand belted out 12 songs a show, eight performances a week—glamorous, for sure, but also hard work.
In a 1977 interview Barbra confessed about her Funny Girl troubles.
STREISAND: When I started to rehearse the play “Funny Girl,” for several months it was great fun. I would eat these huge Chinese meals right before I would go on stage. The more they changed the scenes, the more I liked it. The more I had different songs to try out, the more I loved it. We had 41 different last scenes, the last one being frozen only on opening night. Forty-one versions of a last scene! That was always exciting, stimulating. But once they froze the show, I felt like I was locked up in prison. I couldn't stand it anymore. I could hardly even get through the performances. That's what drove me into analysis: “Funny Girl” on the stage. No one knows the truth about it. I was on Donnatal [a prescription drug].
QUESTION: Why Donnatal?
STREISAND: To control my stomach. I was frightened. I was on the cover of Time and Newsweek in the same week, or something like that. I thought, What do people expect of me? They hadn't seen me, but they'd heard of me. I felt the pressure. Enormous pressure. I had a big calendar; I would cross off the days. After 18 months, all I wanted was out, out, out. But when I signed the deal in 1964 to do the movie, I only wanted to do “Funny Girl” and Ray refused to give it to me unless I signed a four-picture deal. I remember my agent saying to me, “Look, if you're prepared to lose it, then we can say, sorry, we'll sign only one picture at a time.” I was not prepared to lose it.
In 1991, Barbra wrote: “We played almost 1,000 performances on Broadway, out-of-town and in London. Obsessed with sustaining the quality of the production, I gave notes after every performance (including closing night)...If our energy was slipping, if the music was sloppy, if a prop was dirty, I'd make a note of it.”
Barbra Streisand performed the role of Fanny Brice on Broadway through December 25, 1965.
There was a group of young theater fans who saw Funny Girl numerous times and were aware of any changes that Barbra integrated during the run of the show.
One of these fans recalled, “We had many adventures with Barbra, Elliott, Roslyn [Kind], and Diana [Kind]. The group saw hundreds of performances of Funny Girl.”
As the first year of Funny Girl came to a close, Barbra's theater groupies noticed that Streisand started performing shorter versions of the show for audiences.
“Wednesday matinees were the shortest performances,” one fan told Barbra Archives, “with the least amount of material. Barbra cut the second choruses of most of her numbers. (e.g. ‘Don’t Rain on My Parade’ ended with ‘Hey Mr. Arnstein here I am!’).”
The fan recalled that on closing night Barbra “did the full show, with more emotion than she had on opening night.”
Sydney Chaplin Replaced
June 1965: Columnist Earl Wilson reported that Sydney Chaplin (Nick Arnstein) was having “a row with the producers who got Actors Equity to invite him to a ‘friendly discussion’ meeting at Sardi’s where, I’m told, no charges were filed, though some in the cast were questioned about their, and his, performances. Barbra, incidentally, has at no time complained about Chaplin whose acting talent she vastly admires.”
Below: An Earl Wilson column about Chaplin and Stark; and a Playbill insert announcing understudy George Reeder playing the role of Nick Arnstein one evening.
Johnny Desmond was hired to replace Chaplin and given co-star billing with Barbra. Meanwhile, Sydney Chaplin, no longer with the company, was paid $2,100 a week until his contract expired April 1, 1966.
“I flew in on July 1 after studying the script between shows in New Orleans,” Johnny Desmond told the press. “That was a Thursday and I arrived at 5 P.M. I was at the theatre at 6 and rehearsed until 8.”
Desmond told writer Ward Morehouse why he replaced Sydney Chaplin:
You see, Sydney would whisper things to [Barbra] on stage — things like, ‘You're vulgar, you're vulgar’ — and it was driving her crazy. She didn't know what was wrong, and when she tried to talk to him he would brush past her without a word.
Whatever their problem was, the chemistry got so bad he was just walking through it, and she built a wall around herself. She wasn't getting anything from him, so she wasn't giving him anything.
Desmond nipped things in the bud with Streisand: “I asked for a meeting with her to talk things out. We talked for two hours on stage and I told her I was happy in my work, that I was a hero to my wife and kids because I was playing opposite her. And I wanted a good working relationship.
“I couldn’t steal the show from her if I stood on my head and yodeled and I don’t want to even think in those terms or have anyone else think so. I want her to feel secure in my performance.”
Until Johnny Desmond joined the cast, the part of Nick Arnstein was played by understudy George Reeder. Interestingly, his name was not printed to the right of Barbra Streisand's in the June 1965 Playbill for the show.
Leaving New York
Barbra left the Broadway production of Funny Girl on Sunday, December 25, 1965. In her final performance she broke down and cried while singing “People.”
Barbra told Gene Shalit in 1983, “Closing night of Funny Girl, I was standing on the stage singing ‘People’ for the last time and I broke down. I was overwhelmed by emotion. I don't know where it came from, it was somewhere deep in my unconscious. And I realized how much feeling I had towards that song.”
As a tribute to Fanny Brice, she sang “My Man” to the audience after the final bows.
Funny Girl ran for another year and a half with Mimi Hines portraying Fanny. (Her real-life husband, Phil Ford, joined the cast as Eddie Ryan). Hines remembered some of her time in Funny Girl with writer David Noh:
Jule [Styne] had told me and Phil about the show two years before, when he came to see us in the Catskills, saying I’d be perfect for it. Then Barbra came along and she was absolutely perfect because visually she had a resemblance to Fanny, with a lovely success already in ‘I Can Get it for You Wholesale,’ a hit record, so it went right to her, of course. I never dreamed it would be such a success.
“I met Barbra years before when she worked with Liberace, but she doesn’t remember that. That’s okay. I used to see her pop in and get ready for the matinee, stand in the wings for a few seconds, and then she’d disappear. When I opened in the show, she left me a giant blue marble egg, quite lovely.”
Below: Publicity photos of Mimi Hines in Funny Girl.
On March 14, 1966, Funny Girl moved theaters — from Broadway's Winter Garden to the Majestic on West 44th.
The Broadway production of Funny Girl finally closed July 1, 1967. Variety reported its 1,348-performance run earned an estimated $1,200,000 profit on its initial $450,000 investment.
Hines and Ford subsequently opened an edited, one-hour version of the show at Las Vegas' Riviera Hotel.
For a national tour, Marilyn Michaels performed Fanny and Anthony George was Nick. Funny Girl made news when, in Denver, the tour's producer insisted the lyrics to “Rat-Tat-Tat-Tat” be changed from “Private Schwartz from Rockaway” to “Private Flynn from Brook-a-lyn” for fear that West Coast audiences would deem the lyrics anti-Semitic.
While the Broadway and tour versions of Funny Girl continued, Streisand had moved with the show to London in 1966.
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