Broadway and North Carolina Theatre veteran Jacqueline Piro is a (very) funny girl and a superlative singer whose robust renditions of "I'm the Greatest Star" and "Don't Rain on My Parade" and poignant phrasing of "People" amply demonstrate her versatility with a melody and a lyric during the current NCT production of Funny Girl. Piro plays the title role of world-famous comedienne and singer Fanny Brice (1891-1951) — the plum part that made Barbra Streisand the toast of the Big Apple in 1964 — with verve. Piro's finely nuanced performance — alternately hilarious and poignant — superbly chronicles Brice's evolution from an "ugly-duckling" chorus girl with two left feet to a "Ziegfeld Follies" headliner who shined brighter than the stars in heaven.
Her tall and handsome co-star, Broadway and NCT veteran Merwin Foard, is a superb baritone who provides a perfect foil as glamorous and utterly charming gambler and real-estate, stock, and bond speculator Nick Arnstein. In real life, their bittersweet romance, which ends after Arnstein goes to prison for his part in a shady stock deal, is not quite the storybook affair portrayed in Funny Girl. (For "the truth" about Funny Girl, see http://www.musicals101.com/brice.htm.) But so what. Funny Girl is a backstage musical and romantic comedy with serious overtones, not a docudrama. Piro's Brice has a lot of rough edges (just like Fanny did), and Foard's Arnstein is smoothness and self-assurance personified.
New York director/choreographer Tee Scatuorchio's 20th production for The North Carolina Theatre is a sassy staging fueled by high-octane (and more than usually intricate) production numbers and snazzy tap-dance sequences cleverly choreographed by Danny Wallace. NCT resident musical director/conductor McCrae Hardy and orchestra provide brisk instrumental accompaniment. The splendid set — originally designed by Michael Anania and John Farrell and built for the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera and Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, NJ — charmingly evokes a variety of locations in New York City, Long Island, and Baltimore during the Roaring Twenties.
Lighting designer Craig Stelzenmuller's skillful illumination of the action and the striking period costumes designed by Kimberly Wick for Costume World, Inc. — and supplemented by NCT resident costumer Denise Schumaker — also enhance the visual appeal of Funny Girl.
Correctible opening-night glitches plagued sound designer Jonathan Parke Sept. 9, but they scarcely affected the crackerjack comic characterizations of Pauline Cobrda as Fanny's spunky mother Rosie, Alison Lawrence as Mrs. Strakosh the neighborhood cardsharp, Craig Waletzko as choreographer Eddie Ryan, and Vinny Genna as Broadway impresario Florenz Ziegfeld (1869-1932).
Funny Girl, with book by Isobel Lennart and music by Jules Styne and lyrics by Bob Merrill, may not be the epic musical that dominates Broadway these days. But the NCT production will amply reward theater-goers, with snappy staging, luminous star turns by Jacqueline Piro and Merwin Foard, and polished performances by almost every member of the show's large and talented supporting cast.
The North Carolina Theatre presents Funny Girl Thursday-Friday, Sept. 11-12, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, Sept. 13, at 2 and 8 p.m.; and Sunday, Sept. 14, at 2 and 7 p.m. in Memorial Auditorium in the BTI Center, 1 E. South St., Raleigh. $18-$60. 919/831-6950 (NCT Box Office) or 919/834-4000 (Ticketmaster) or http://www.ticketmaster.com/venue/115203. Note: NCT will provide audio description during the Sept. 13 matinee. http://www.nctheatre.com/.
Second Opinion: http://www.newsobserver.com/theaterreview/story/2852448p-2632314c.html [inactive 5/04] (Roy C. Dicks' News & Observer review).