Director wants ‘Funny Girl’ to live up to name

Director David Jendre wants to bring out the funny in “Funny Girl.”

The 1964 Jule Styne / Bob Merrill / Isobel Lennart musical, which opens Friday for a two-weekend run at the Youngstown Playhouse, is best remembered for making Barbra Streisand a star for her portrayal of Fanny Brice, a Broadway, radio and film star in the first half of the 20th century. Streisand earned a Tony Award nomination for her performance on Broadway and ended up winning the Academy Award for best actress for the 1968 film version.

“It’s one of those big old chestnuts that is almost never done for many reasons, probably the main one is Streisand is so attached to the project. I was thinking about that when I went into it. Let’s see if I can take it away from Streisand as far as possible.”

Jendre said she cut some parts that he felt hadn’t aged well and tried to give the show a more updated feel.

“My Fanny is not your typical Streisand girl,” Jendre said. “She’s a younger girl, full of life and humor, whereas the way Streisand played it, it went more for the melodrama. I’m going a bit more for the comedy that’s in the show. It is about a funny girl.”

Rebecca Potkanowicz will make her Playhouse debut in the musical.

“She just came into the audition and blew me away with her voice,” Jendre said.

That voice gets to sing such Broadway standards as “People” and “Don’t Rain on My Parade” in a score that also includes “I’m the Greatest Star,” “You Are Woman” and “The Music That Makes Me Dance.”

The rest of the cast includes Tyler Clark, Amy Banks, Jacob Butler, Elainie Huncik, Joe Malys, Kathleen Sanfrey, Terry Shears, John Weber, Rob Whiting, Terri A. Wilkes, Andrew Baumeier, Eddie Benson, Kaitlyn Carson, Kevin Durkin, Sarah Gleydura, Maddison Kutsch, AnnMarie Lowerre, Mikayla Moore, Isabella Sandberg, and Anne Sopher.

The production team includes Matthew White, music director; Lori George, choreographer; Leslie Brown, set designer; Ellen Licitra, lighting designer; Therese Pitzulo, costume designer; Johnny Pecano, technical director; and Brown and John Monroe, stage managers.

Some parts of the story, such as Brice being told she wasn’t pretty enough to become a star, may seem sexist to contemporary audiences, Jendre said, but they accurately reflect when the story takes place. And many aspects of her story still are true today.

“Parts of it are still so relevant for what is going on today, the relationships and digging yourself out of near poverty to become what you want to be and succeed at it. Fanny Brice, for her time, was just an amazing woman. To because that big with Ziegfeld (Follies) at such a young age and for her career to last from the early 1900s into the ’40s took at lot. We hit on that and her indomitable spirit for survival.”

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