By Steven Suskin
11 May 2014
Photo by Henry Grossman
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.
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.)