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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

Apr 15, 2021



‘FUNNY GIRL’ is one of the most entertaining musicals of all time simply because of Barbra Streisand’s highly captivating title role performance in her very first movie. 

The film started as a Broadway musical in 1964 starring Barbra herself and it was later made into film in 1968, with Barbra winning the Oscar best actress award (tie with Katharine Hepburn for “The Lion in Winter” - they’re both very deserving.)

“Funny Girl” is the true story of comedian-singer Fanny Brice, who hit it big in the Broadway shows of well known stage impresario, Florenz Ziegfield, starring in his “Ziegfield Follies” in 1910, 1911 and 1921. 

She also starred in the film versions “Great Ziegfield” 1936 and “Ziegfield Follies” 1946.

She’s best known for her hits “Second Hand Rose” and “My Man”, which are both sung by Barbra in the film version, with “My Man” as the fitting dramatic finale. 

Brice became a posthumous recipient of the Grammy Hall of Fame award for her recording of “My Man”.

“Funny Girl” is about her rise to fame with the help of Ziegfield and her bittersweet romance with Nicky Arnstein (Omar Shariff), a professional gambler with whom she fell head over heels in love. 

The story is fictionalized because in real life, Brice was first married as a teenager to a barber but it lasted for only 3 years.

Arnstein is an ex-convict and they lived together for six years before they got married. After they got married, he was convicted again for bond theft for three years. 

“Funny Girl” is such a big critical and commercial hit (the biggest box office hit of 1968) that it had a sequel in 1975, “Funny Lady”, which centered on her marriage with Billy Rose, played by James Caan. But it wasn’t as big a success as “Funny Girl”.

“Funny Girl” is directed by William Wyler, who earlier won awards for “The Best Years of our Lives” and “Ben Hur”. He also gave the Oscar to Audrey Hepburn, who won best actress for her first movie, “Roman Holiday”. 

The film starts with Fanny waiting for the return of Nicky from prison before the start of her new show. From there, the story on how she started and gained fame as a vaudeville performer is told in flashbacks. 

Nicky sees her debut performance and congratulates her. They eventually become romantically involved and it’s Fanny who practically proposed to him. 

She’s a big star by then and she left the Follies just to follow him in Europe They marry, have a daughter, Fanny returns to performing while Nicky’s businesses fail.

No doubt it’s Barbra’s bravura star turn that carried the film. The finale number, “My Man”, is one of the best endings we saw on screen. 

But her renditions of “People” and “Don’t Rain on my Parade” (sung while she’s on a train, on a car and on a boat with the Statue of Liberty behind her) are just memorable knockouts. The musical numbers enhance and do not disrupt the narrative.

But it’s not only the singing that stands out. Barbra’s  delivery of her wisecracks and one-liners are all hilariously witty, but she makes it all sound like she’s just improvising them, even her moments of self-deprecation. You just cannot overpraise her overwhelmingly triumphant performance that has definitely withstood the test of time. 

To the new generation of viewers who are not that familiar with her, “Funny Girl” is a great introduction to Barbra’s prodigious talents. 

Later on, she’d also go into directing her own well made films, like “Yentl”, “Prince of Tides” and “The Mirror Has Two Faces”, making her a successful singer, actress and filmmaker.