Fanny vs. Fanny: A pair of funny girls on Bay Area stages 

click to enlarge Melissa WolfKlain
  • COURTESY MARK AND TRACY PHOTOGRAPHY
  • Melissa WolfKlain portrays vaudeville great Fanny Brice in one of two Bay Area productions of “Funny Girl.”
A long-running hit from Broadway’s golden age that became an Oscar-winning film, the seldom-produced musical “Funny Girl” now has cheek-to-cheek Fannys in overlapping productions at opposite ends of the Bay Area.

Based on the life of stage, screen and radio star Fanny Brice, the show’s score gave birth to such standards as “People” and “Don’t Rain On My Parade” and provides a thrilling if demanding opportunity for female singer-actors.

“I had three roles I always wanted to play and Fanny was at the top of the list,” says Taylor Bartolucci, who is having a second go at playing Brice, this time at 6th Street Playhouse in Santa Rosa beginning Friday. (Rose from “Gypsy” and Norma Desmond from “Sunset Boulevard” are her other two picks.)

Not so for Melissa WolfKlain, who plays Fanny at Hillbarn Theatre starting Aug. 29.

Her career has leaned more toward ingénue dance roles like Kathy Selden in “Singin’ in the Rain.” The production, however, is marking a different kind of milestone for the Foster City native. “I’ve lived here since I was seven but have never worked at Hillbarn, so it’s great to be making my debut there with this role.”

Originally planned as a vehicle for Mary Martin with a possible score by Jule Styne and Stephen Sondheim (collaborators on “Gypsy”), the show “My Man” might have had a very different trajectory. As it turned out, the eventual star and title role became so successful and intertwined as to be fused in the public consciousness.

“I never wanted anyone to mention Barbra Streisand,” Bartolucci says of the rehearsal process. That’s not because she holds any aversion to the Oscar winner. “She is incredible in her own right. I just wanted our production to be about the real Fanny.”

For both actors, reading and online research revealed what Bartolucci describes as “a remarkable woman, from her professional drive to her private tragedies. It’s a heartbreaking story.”

For WolfKlain, the best part of learning about Brice was “how real she was in her comedy and how grounded she was. That’s what I really liked about her.”

The musical launches Hillbarn’s 74th season, the first under the leadership of newly seated artistic director Dan Demers, who is directing this production. Barry Martin, artistic director of Napa’s Lucky Penny Productions, is directing the Santa Rosa incarnation.

Like Hillbarn, “Funny Girl” also kicks off 6th Street Playhouse’s “Coming Home: An American Theatre Experience” season, which Bartolucci thinks is ideal.

“Fanny Brice and the Ziegfeld Follies,” she poses. “You can get more Americana than that, can you?”

IF YOU GO

Funny Girl

Where: Hillbarn Theatre, 1285 E. Hillsdale Blvd., Foster City

When: Opens Aug. 28, 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays; closes Sept. 21

Tickets: $23 to $42

Contact: (650) 349-6411, www. hillbarntheatre.org

Note: The show opens Friday and runs through Sept. 4 at 6th Street Playhouse, 52 W. 6th St., Santa Rosa; www.6thstreetplayhouse.com

About The Author

Robert Sokol

Robert Sokol

Bio:
Robert Sokol is the editor at BAYSTAGES, the creative director at VIA MEDIA, and a lifelong arts supporter. Diva wrangler, cinefiler, and occasional saloon singer, he has been touching showbiz all his life. (So far no restraining orders have been issued!)... more
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