ON THE RECORD: Barbra Streisand as That Funny Girl

By Steven Suskin
11 May 2014

Streisand in Funny Girl.
Photo by Henry Grossman
(In 1980 Kanin wrote the novel "Smash," about a troubled Broadway biomusical of vaudeville star Nora Bayes. In the course of which the director was fired during the tryout and replaced by a "production supervisor." Although in "Smash," Kanin has the original director brought back at the last minute to save the show.)

As for Robbins turning Funny Girl into a hit, the key was Streisand. If something didn't work — and a fair amount of the show didn't work — the solution, again and again, was to throw it out and write something new for the star. The fact that Streisand was so good — and possessed of super-human strength, stage-wise — allowed them to just keep expanding the role. In the finished version, there are two old-fashioned songs for Fanny's mother (the duet "Who Taught Her Everything" and the trio "Find Yourself a Man") and one negligible chorus number ("Henry Street"). Streisand participates in everything else. (Fanny doesn't sing in the opening number, "If a Girl Isn't Pretty," but she has dialogue throughout the song.) Chaplin, who started out as full co-star, wound up with only two songs — and Streisand joined him on both. "You Are Woman, I Am Man" wasn't working on the road, so they added a comedy counterpoint for Streisand — HE: "A bit of paté?" SHE: "I drink it all day" — and it became an instant highpoint.

This wasn't Streisand grabbing the spotlight; it was everyone using Streisand as a life preserver. All of this made Funny Girl a hit, but it is also the bane of Funny Girl: You need someone as good as Barbra Streisand to pull it off, and how many people have come along over the last 50 years as good as Barbra Streisand?

All of this, it seems to me, is kind of interesting. The liner note for the 50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition boxed set, by Jay Landers, is long, involved and handsomely designed, with 48 pages including numerous interesting photos of the show. It does not, however, tell us much of anything about Funny Girl. It talks about the star — not unreasonably, I suppose — and discusses her recording career (including the Funny Girl cast album) at length.

This leads us to the newly-released Deluxe Edition, which comes in a 12" square box (i.e. the size of a 33 1/3 record). Included along with the aforementioned booklet are a newly remastered CD of the original cast album — with no added tracks, in a colorful 12" square cardboard record sleeve — and a vinyl LP that is apparently remastered as well. (I don't have a turntable available upon which to play it). The LP is contained in an exact reproduction of the original gatefold cover, complete with the synopsis by Stanley Green accompanied by poorly reproduced black-and-white photos. Note that they use the original back cover of the LP and not the later printing, which removed Chaplin's photograph once he fell out of favor.

Streisand completists will presumably need to add this to their complete collections. For those who simply want the newly remastered CD of Funny Girl, though, it seems like a rather steep choice at the present tariff.

(Steven Suskin is author of "Show Tunes," "The Sound of Broadway Music: A Book of Orchestrators and Orchestrations," "Second Act Trouble," the "Opening Night on Broadway" books, and "The Book of Mormon: The Testament of a Broadway Musical." He also writes the Aisle View blog at The Huffington Post. He can be reached at Ssuskin@aol.com.)