'One Night with Fanny Brice' by Phoenix Stage Company

Nancy Sasso Janis

Don’t miss the chance to spend ‘One Night with Fanny Brice’ by the Phoenix Stage Company at that will open on Friday at the Clockwork Repertory Company in Oakville.

 The Phoenix Stage presented this one-woman show several years ago in their former location in Naugatuck with Mary Cantoni Johnson in the title role. Ms. Johnson then reprised the role Off Broadway at the 13th Street Repertory Theater in NYC. Now Connecticut theatre lovers have an opportunity to see the New York version with a far easier commute.
The well-researched musical written by Chip Deffaa premiered in 2010 in New Jersey. It is a trip down memory lane with the ghost of the comedian/singer/actress.   The story she tells is far more accurate than the version of her life that is depicted in the highly fictionalized film ‘Funny Girl’ and its sequel ‘Funny Lady.’ The musical and the films were produced by Ray Stark, who was Brice's son-in-law via his marriage to her daughter Frances, and starred Barbra Streisand. 

 ‘One Night with Fanny Brice’ is interspersed with many of Miss Brice’s signature songs in chronological order.The music director, TJ Thompson in a tux, sits onstage to accompany Ms. Johnson’s dramatic recreation of the various songs. At one point Fanny acts him a question; otherwise he simply enjoys her performance as he waits at the piano for the next musical number. The first act ends with the first time that Ms. Brice confirms that Nicky Arnstein has been cheating on her and the second act includes many of her more “plaintive” songs. The show is well-paced throughout and director Sharon A. Wilcox knows this show so well that she continues to make it shine. 

 As Fanny Brice, Ms. Johnson is completely convincing, despite the fact that she is prettier than the lady in the black and white posters that adorn the set. I got so wrapped up in her narrative that I immediately forgot that Ms. Brice has been dead for a very long time. The talented actress embodies the character in a way that mesmerizes the audience and I hung on her every word and note. I enjoyed ‘I’m Always Chasing Rainbows,” “Rose of Washington Square,” and “Second Hand Rose” and I appreciated the torch song “My Man.”

 The set by Ed Bassett has expanded somewhat since the PSC’s presentation; it includes many posters from the time, framed black and white photos, two chairs and many authentic props. One of the two beautiful costumes by Renee Purdy are different than I remember; the first is a lacy lilac ensemble that is covered with a magnificent black coat with a white fur collar and jaunty hat as the actress enters the stage. The second act is performed in a beaded black dress that moves beautifully. The beautiful lighting at the Clockwork only enhances both the set and the costumes.
I am disappointed that I didn’t get to see ‘A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder’ when it played at the Hartford Stage. I was grateful to win a ticket to see ‘Amazing Grace’ when it was presented at the Norma Terris, but was asked not to write a review of the work in progress. Now I am thrilled to be able to review again this work that has been presented to critical acclaim Off Broadway and returns to Connecticut. 

 Don't miss what the director calls “this charming snippet of American Theatre History.”  ‘One Night with Fanny Brice’ runs August 21, 22, 28 & 29 at 8pm and August 23 & 30 at 3pm.John Dressel will accompany Ms. Johnson August 28-30. The historic Clockwork Repertory Theatre is located at 133 Main Street Oakville CT. 

 Pictured: Final dress rehearsal photo by Sharon A. Wilcox