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Hello gorgeous, and hello 'Funny Girl.' Broadway revival dazzles in Des Moines

Two women sing on stage with their hands outstretched towards the audience.
Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade
Des Moines Performing Arts
Melissa Manchester and Katerina McCrimmon belt out a show-stopping number during a performance on the national tour of Funny Girl.

Hello gorgeous, and hello Funny Girl!

The beloved musical, first made famous by Barbra Streisand in a Tony-nominated stage show and Oscar-winning film in the 1960s, returned to Broadway in 2022 — the first time in nearly 60 years.

That revival production garnered rave reviews and has launched a North American tour. The latest stop? Des Moines.

Featuring iconic songs like “Don’t Rain on My Parade” and “People,” Funny Girl tells the true story of Broadway legend Fanny Brice and her unlikely rise to superstardom. Ellenore Scott, choreographer for the 2022 Broadway revival, explained why she thinks Brice’s story continues to resonate with audiences.

“So much of the show is about watching a woman rise to stardom from nothing. She didn't have a family. This wasn't like a nepotism baby. She rose to power using the things that people made fun of her for,” Scott said. “Revisiting it, especially during these times, is remarkable and very exciting.”

As the show’s choreographer, Scott said she didn’t want to just recreate the original 1964 production, and instead looked to the 1920s for inspiration — which is the setting of Brice’s story. Archival recordings of the Ziegfeld Follies, the theatrical revue that Brice headlined on Broadway, were particularly inspiring to Scott.

“I kind of was devising my own version of what I found would be useful for the narrative of the story rather than doing a carbon copy of what the original show was,” Scott said. “When I was approaching that, it allowed me to be influenced by the actual moves of the era and then add my own little twist to it.”

According to Scott, she wanted to pay tribute to the original production while also reimagining the show for a whole new generation.

“There is this pressure to make sure that it lives up to that kind of standard of classic musical theater. It is studied. I know students that use those songs for audition material. So there definitely was a pressure to make sure that I both honored the history and the legacy of that piece while maintaining that this is a brand-new production,” Scott said. “We didn't change a lot of things, but there were some changes to the show. So it was a bit of a challenge, but I found it very exciting and also nerve-wracking.”

One of the changes that Funny Girl fans can look forward to is the addition of an original Fanny Brice song, entitled “I’d Rather Be Blue.” The revival also features updated production design, which, according to Scott, gives audiences fresh insight into Brice’s state of mind.

“This production is trying to get the idea across that this is Fanny’s dream. This is Fanny going back in time to kind of recount the episodes and the moments in her life to figure out how she got to where she is,” Scott explained. “And what we wanted to do with the production is make it feel very much like we're seeing flashbacks. We're seeing ghosts of her past watching her. We're seeing her realize that all these people who have been in her life have always been there.”

It’s a particularly poignant feeling for Scott, who recently discovered that the show has always held a special place in her life — even when she didn’t know it.

“Come to find out my grandmother has a song that she would sing me when I was a baby, which was with her own lyrics to ‘You Are Woman, I Am Man’ from the cast album. And she goes, ‘You are baby, I am Gram.’ I didn’t find that out until after the Broadway show opened,” Scott recalled. “The fact that my grandmother was singing me Funny Girl when I was a baby brings tears to my eyes.”

This full-circle moment was just one of several career highlights for Scott in recent years. In 2022, Scott also choreographed the Tony-nominated musical Mr. Saturday Night, which featured Billy Crystal in his return to the Broadway stage. She is currently in pre-production for her directorial debut — a new musical called The Lonely Few.

As for Funny Girl, Scott continues to hold fond memories of her work on the revival, and encourages Iowans to seek out the production in Des Moines.

“The show has unbelievable vocal power, and you will leave singing all the songs. And selfishly, I do think that the dancing is super infectious,” Scott said. “I think that there are spectacular tap numbers that are super exciting, but that there's also a deep love story. There's romance, there's heartbreak, there's friendships. So I think it really is a show that could be for the whole family.”

Funny Girl begins its week-long engagement at the Des Moines Civic Center on Tuesday, March 12, where it will hold daily performances through Sunday, March 17.

Clinton Olsasky is a contributing writer covering film for Iowa Public Radio. He graduated from the University of Northern Iowa, where he earned a bachelor's degree in digital journalism and a minor in film studies. While at UNI, he served as the executive editor and film critic for the Northern Iowan newspaper, as well as co-founder and president of the UNI Film Appreciation Club.