Different people who need people have finally arrived at “Funny Girl” on Broadway.
The problem-plagued revival of Jule Styne and Isobel Lennart’s 1964 musical welcomed its new Fanny Brice, Lea Michele, on Tuesday night, along with Tovah Feldshuh as her Brooklynite mother.
And the crowd goes “mazel tov!”
Michele arrives confidently and in splendid voice amid an onslaught of dishy stories about the early departure of her predecessor, Beanie Feldstein. Indeed, no Broadway switcheroo has been this dramatic since Andrew Lloyd Webber unceremoniously booted Patti LuPone out of “Sunset Boulevard” and hired Glenn Close instead.
In an attempt to give the change-up some breathing room, the production is formally inviting critics to review the show again in three weeks. So, The Post bought its own ticket Tuesday for the best seat in the house — Rear Mezzanine Row Q.
Anyway, the delay is needless. Michele is ready to go. She’s revved up and performs like she’s been belting “Don’t Rain On My Parade” in the shower every day for 10 years. Hell, she probably has! Together with the titanic Feldshuh, the “Glee” star lifts this wanting production into something much more palatable than it was back in the spring. (Many of the existing issues remain, however.) This time, I actually enjoyed it.
Michele brings real singing power to the table as Fanny — the role made famous by Barbra Streisand — which was sorely lacking in the revival and is beyond vital. If you know the show, you’re aware you don’t come for the gripping scenes. It’s all about the songs. “Don’t Rain On My Parade,” “People” and “The Greatest Star of All” now all sound buttery, strong and satisfying.
Michele’s best number, though, is “The Music That Makes Me Dance” — a reflective tune sung after her home life has crumbled as her fame has skyrocketed. Michele hasn’t been on Broadway since she left “Spring Awakening” in 2009, and her self-reflection and vulnerability from the intervening years is obvious. As Wendla in “Awakening,” she was an inexperienced kid — onstage and off. Her Fanny, on the other hand, is hardened, hurt and defensive from the get-go. She’s not always lovable, but it’s the right take for this actress.
There was, admittedly, a moment or two I missed Feldstein and her guilelessness. When Nicky Arnstein (Ramin Karimloo) woos her with filet de boeuf in a hotel suite during “You Are Woman, I Am Man,” the experience doesn’t feel fresh. The laughs aren’t free-flowing. Elsewhere, though, Michele has a knack for a set-em-up-knock-em-down punchline.
Yet miraculously, the funniest girl at the August Wilson Theatre isn’t the title character, but the great Feldshuh. In a role that’s harder to make stand out than a beige accent wall, the veteran actress has the crowd in stitches with almost every line.
And she never, ever overplays a single word. Her Mrs. Brice, often subdued, is grounded in reality — and is freakin’ hilarious for it. She takes the bits on Henry Street, Brice’s Brooklyn nabe, and elevates them from functional transitions to cherished moments. She’s a marvel.
Strong casting can only help so much, however. A lot of pressure has been put on Michele (and Feldstein, for that matter) to carry an inherently flawed musical that has never really worked. Act 1, boasting iconic songs by Styne, a “Star Is Born” plot and a lot of sexy romance grabs you here more than ever. But, as revised by Harvey Fierstein, Act 2 remains a sluggish wannabe “Gypsy” about the perils of fame. As her gambling addict husband loses money, we lose interest. There’s nothing Michele and Feldshuh can do about that. Director Michael Mayer’s staging is still an eyesore.
What the pair does manage to do — alongside the still-wonderful Jared Grimes — is bring our favorite songs to thrilling life and give us a few laughs. It’s not the greatest night of all, but it’ll do.