Funny Girl on Broadway

Winter Garden Theatre

1634 Broadway (at West 50th Street)

New York, New York

March 26, 1964 — December 26, 1965 *

* Streisand performing as Fanny Brice (not counting after she left the show)

Streisand in Funny Girl on Broadway

The Original Funny Girl

Before Streisand starred on stage and screen as Fanny Brice, there was the real Fanny Brice — the great stage comedienne and torch singer who headlined the Ziegfeld Follies in the 1920’s and on the radio in the 1930’s as “Baby Snooks.” [more on Brice]

Fanny Brice, Florenz Ziegfeld, and Nick Arnstein

Fanny appeared in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1921. Her husband, Nick Arnstein, was arrested for being part of a gang that stole five million dollars worth of Wall Street securities. With Nick's trial imminent, Broadway impresario Florenz Ziegfeld gave Fanny the song “My Man” to sing. It was an English-language version of “Mon Homme” which was introduced in Paris. The audience empathized with Fanny, and understood that the words of the song mirrored her real-life situation. It's said she never sang the song without closing her eyes and thinking of Nick.

Nick Arnstein and Fanny Brice

(Above: Nick Arnstein and Fanny Brice)

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.”

Stark went on to explain (in a 1964 interview): “[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.”

The real Fanny Brice and Streisand as the character

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

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 1965—Streisand live for $9.60?! Upper right-hand stub contributed by Bill Muzzillo.)

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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