Jenna Lea Rosen as Fanny Brice with the cast of “Funny Girl” at Maine State Music Theatre. Photo by MSMT/Jared Morneau Photography

Who are the luckiest people in the world? At least for theater fans, the answer is “people who need people,” a line made famous well over half a century ago by Barbra Streisand in the original production of the musical “Funny Girl.”

On the heels of the show’s recent Broadway revival, the Maine State Music Theatre has opened a spirited production of the classic musical on its home stage at the Pickard Theater on the campus of Bowdoin College in Brunswick.

The show primarily captures the rousing excitement of early musical theater while unavoidably making us think about how it launched the career of Streisand. At a lengthy but enjoyable two-and-one-half hours, plus intermission, it’s a show that still charms with its memorable songs, old-style comedy and bittersweet love story.

The impressive production, directed and choreographed by Kenny Ingram and with the time-honored music of Jule Styne, lyrics by Bob Merrill and book by Isobel Lennart, tells the semi-fictionalized story of Fanny Brice, a real-life figure who rose from humble origins to showbiz stardom as a give-it-everything-you’ve-got performer in the early 20th century.

At first socially awkward and vulnerable, but with a unique talent and an admirable determination to succeed, Fanny gained the attention of famed impresario Florenz Ziegfeld, Jr. and went on to star in many of his glitzy stage shows. At the same time, Fanny’s personal life was a bit of a rollercoaster ride.

Jenna Lea Rosen takes the lead role and scores comedically with her initially wide-eyed approach to Fanny’s personal and professional challenges. Armed with a feisty “New Yawk” accent, the actress easily takes charge of backstage, front stage and offstage scenes. Her vocals are compelling on both comic numbers (“Sadie, Sadie” and “Rat-Tat-Tat-Tat”) and in more intimate moments (“People” and “Don’t Rain On My Parade”).


Douglas Raymond Williams plays Fanny’s handsome rogue of a love interest who brings her to a fuller life but fails her in the end. His opera-trained vocals alongside Rosen (“I Want to be Seen With You” and “You are Woman, I am Man”) establish both the heat and uncertainties within their relationship.

Among the many standout secondary actors and choristers, Tyler Johnson-Campion is a tap-dancing whiz. His work with Sue Cella, who plays Fanny’s mom, is a treat on “Who Taught Her Everything.” Cella also has some fun moments squabbling with a competitive friend played by Maine State favorite Charis Leos.

Tommy Betz shines as a Tenor and David Girolmo returns to the Pickard stage as the stern but supportive Mr. Ziegfeld. Jeremiah Valentino Porter gets to toot a hot horn on “Cornet Man.”

The Maine State Music Theatre Orchestra, led by Jason Wetzel, mixes up the period flavors with a newer Broadway expansiveness. The costumes designed by J. Theresa Bush and scenic design by Jeffrey D. Kmiec take the audience back to a distant era when musical theater and its early stars were on the rise.

Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.

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