Fresh spin coming on classic musical
Wednesday, May 8, 2019
By GUY D’ASTOLFO
The Youngstown Playhouse’s production of “Funny Girl” won’t be as grandiose and melodramatic as the original.
But it will be tighter, more modern and, well, funnier.
The show – which opens Friday – is being directed by David Jendre. He has helmed some of the Playhouse’s biggest shows in recent years – “Cats,” “A Chorus Line,” “Chicago” – but it’s taken him awhile to get a handle on “Funny Girl.”
Jendre took over mid-stream when the original director had to back out.
“It’s just a big complicated show, and going in I didn’t realize how big it was,” he said. “It’s one of those old musicals from the early ’60s that is hugely produced with tons of scenery, tons of chorus people, just scene after scene of complex scenery.”
Realistically, the Playhouse had to pare it down to fit its means and to make it more palatable to today’s audiences, which expect seamless scene changes.
“I’ve been busy trying to figure out how to make this show fly, which is what I like my shows to do,” said Jendre. “It’s been a juggling act, but I have got it to the point where I am satisfied with how it looks, feels and sounds.”
The musical premiered on Broadway in 1964, and the film version – which launched the career of Barbra Streisand – was released in 1968.
It’s based on the life and career of actress-comedian Fanny Brice, and her stormy relationship with her boyfriend, Nick Arnstein. It takes place in the 1910s and 1920s.
The original versions are long in running time and melodramatic, which Jendre said just wouldn’t do.
The film also now has the aura of Streisand, with which Jendre didn’t want to compete. He decided to go a different route.
“My [first] thought was... to do a total 180 from the Streisand version and cast it with a different type of girl in the lead role,” he said. “I didn’t want the audience coming in expecting to see Streisand, because that’s next to impossible. I just wanted to bring more of the comedy into it.”
For the role of Fanny Brice, the director looked for a girl with a comedic spark.
“Luckily, I think I did find this girl,” he said, referring to Rebecca Potkaniwicz, who will play Fanny Brice.
Potkaniwicz, of Poland, will make her Playhouse debut in the role, in which she is onstage in practically every scene.
“She is brand new and that was important to me,” said Jendre. “She showed up at the audition with a dynamic voice, a spark of originality and spunk that was just what I was looking for. She has great comedic timing, and she blew me away at the audition.”
Tyler Clark will play Nick Arnstein, her love interest.
With the lead in place, Jendre said his version of the musical fell into place. “It will be a little bit modernized and a little bit stripped down, tighter and funnier than the original,” he said.
Completing the cast of supporting characters are Amy Banks, Jacob Butler, Elainie Huncik, Joe Malys, Kathleen Sanfrey, Terry Shears, John Weber, Rob Whiting and Terri A. Wilkes.
The ensemble includes Andrew Baumeier, Eddie Benson, Kaitlyn Carson, Kevin Durkin, Sarah Gleydura, Maddison Kutsch, AnnMarie Lowerre, Mikayla Moore, Isabella Sandberg and Anne Sopher.
Lori George serves as choreographer, and Matthew White is the musical director.
Leslie Brown and John Monroe are the production’s stage managers. Brown created the set design, Ellen Licitra designed the lighting, and Therese Pitzulo created the costumes.
Johnny Pecano serves as technical director.