How does it feel playing the classic Fanny Brice, knowing full well that Streisand put her original stamp on it at the start?
Well, it's a legendary role because a legendary person made it legendary. There is no way around it! That will never change. So it's a tremendous honor to get to play this part, and I don't take it lightly. But then in order to actually play the part I have to forget all that because it doesn't help to remind yourself you're not Streisand. So I accept it, and never think about it again, honestly. The only thing I can control is how I tell the story. That's all that's left. So that's what I focus on. Bringing my own personality to the role in order to tell a story. If I think about all the other stuff I'll go crazy. CraziER.
You are brilliant with physical comedy. I think you added more of this than any other actress I have seen play Fanny, and I like that. Where did you learn your technique? Did it start before MADtv? Did that show help to hone it?
Thank you, that's so nice! MADtv certainly helped, I learned so much about comedy from that show. I learned about every aspect: timing, writing, character development, physical comedy, improv etc. But I would say my initial interest in physical comedy began with Fawlty Towers. It is a British sitcom that was super short-lived, with John Cleese. And it will teach you everything you want to know about comedy. And at the center is Cleese, that wonderful gigantic tall man and he does hilarious things with his body that are all character-driven. That's what I was drawn to. I wore out those videotapes when I was seven years old and honestly can trace so many choices back to those episodes! So go watch them, everybody! The other person I learned from firsthand was Martin Short. I did Fame Becomes Me on Broadway with him, and he is a brilliant physical comedian. But I'd never seen someone break down a bit of business quite like him. He'll spend an hour on one moment--working out the timing, the look, because he's so smart, and knows exactly how and when something needs to happen. And then of course on stage it looks effortless. That kind of education was invaluable! I knew I wanted to make my Fanny physical, because in watching the little footage that's publicly available of Fanny Brice, I noticed she made very funny, specific, physical choices. She has a number in a movie where she's dressed as a swan, ("It's Gorgeous To Be Graceful") and she does this crazy skip that I love. I try to do a bit of it in "Rat-Tat-Tat-Tat" as a tip of the hat to her. Also, adding physical comedy is just another way to pepper the scenes with moments that aren't on the page. I feel like a lot of this role is filling in the spaces with humor and personality.
You've played Elphaba in Wicked. That's another big, big role, which, like Fanny, requires a lot of stamina 8 times a week. How would you compare the challenges of playing both and the music? Is Jule Styne's score easier to perform than Stephen Schwartz's?
They are so, so different. Both are challenging I would say. Elphaba lives in a bit more of a pop world, where as the Funny Girl Score is rooted in the torch song era of Broadway, two completely wonderful styles of musical theater, but so very different to sing. Fanny just lives in a different place in my voice than Elphaba. I will say that Elphaba is wonderful training for a role like Fanny. The endurance you have to have for Wicked is pretty extensive, so I'm very glad I have experience knowing how to pace myself for three hours. And both scores require you to have power, and backup reserves of it! Funny Girl naturally sounds more old-fashioned, which it should--music from another time and place. It really transports you to hear it, so vocally it requires it's own technique to achieve that sound. It would be strange if I rocked the "Defying Gravity"-style "Ahh-ahh-ahh-ahh!" the the end of "Don't Rain on My Parade," although the cast has made it clear that they would really enjoy this one night : )
I would say the workload is very similar, but it's the material that makes the parts so different. With Fanny, yes, I'm on stage almost the entire time, change costumes every two minutes, and sing exactly 41 songs, but there are several scenes that are fun and silly. It makes a very big difference to be able to have moments on stage where you're playing with an audience, or other actors on stage, and engaging in a comedic moment. It affects the experience and makes the ride more light. Elphaba on the other hand, kind of has a rough go of it from the start. I mean, the poor girl has a MOUNTAIN to climb. She's not very happy for much of the show, even when she's kissing a guy, cause it's her best friend's guy!....so she has a lot of angst. With all the being green, flying, crying, running, and being a renegade, it takes an emotional toll on you 8 times a week. It's interesting how Elphie gets under your skin and can really affect you. Even though it's incredibly rewarding to be Elphie! So I'd say that's the difference!
I would like to go on record and say I think Fanny and Elphie would be friends. But every once in awhile Elphie would have to say to Fanny,"Shhh...just...Shh. Please be quiet."
Who are your idols? Your favorite actors? On stage or film.
I have a bunch: Gilda Radner, Madeline Kahn, Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, Mel Brooks, the ENTIRE cast of Tootsie and Fawlty Towers, Stephen Sondheim, Emma Thompson, Judy Kuhn, Martin Short. I promise I didn't just google "Celebrities" for this answer. I just have been influenced by a lot of different people!
What role would you love to tackle next? Any one in particular that you are yearning to play?
Oh my! I have weird ones, cause I started out as a high soprano, so some of my dream roles are super impossible because I'm not an ingenue! I'd love to play Sarah Brown in Guys and Dolls, my all time favorite musical. Or Magnolia in Showboat, and Amalia in She Loves Me. See what I mean? But of course someday I'd love to play Dot in Sunday in the Park. I've done Into the Woods twice, would happily do it again. There's Mrs. Lovett, and Mame: all the broads. I basically won't work again until I'm fifty, apparently.
How has it been working with Michael Matthews, this cast and 3-D Theatricals?
Michael is amazing. All I wanted was someone who would let me play and experiment, and he gave me exactly that. He asks great questions, and he doesn't let you off easy, he wants you to know the answers for yourself. I could have done three more weeks at least of scene work with him because he just keeps adding layers and layers. Most of the time a scene session began with him asking me,"Are you ready to play?," which, as an improviser, I really appreciated. He had a clear vision of how to tell this story, and approached it with a very calm and easy hand. There was no pressure, it felt as if this show was ours--almost like a brand new show. He was also super collaborative about making some structural changes in Act II to further serve the story. I trust him completely and hope that we work together again!!!!! The cast is dreamy. Josh Adamson, my Nicky Arnstein, is the most charming, talented, and supportive leading man a gal could ask for. We get along so well and it just made the process a blast. And everyone else is just as wonderful: from the hysterical poker ladies, to our fabulous Ziegfeld, to the AMAZING ensemble that stops the show with their tap number. The cast is very special. It's been a very positive and supportive experience from start to finish, which is clearly a reflection of 3-D and the environment that they're cultivating. They're great!
Only two weekends left to see the amazing Nicole Parker as Fanny Brice in Funny Girl. In Fullerton at the Plummer Auditorium September 20-22 and then in Redondo Beach at the Performing Arts Center September 27-29.