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Paulanne Simmons

Brice Is Back

One Night with Fanny Brice
Witten, arranged and directed by Chip Deffaa
St. Luke's Theatre, 308 West 46th Street
Opened April 3, 2011
Wednesdays and Saturdays at 2pm and Sundays at 2pm and 7pm
Tickets: $36.50 and $59.50 (212) 239-6200
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons March 27, 2011

Comedienne, singer and actress Fanny Brice led a life that is the stuff of legend. Born Fania Borach to immigrant Jewish parents, she dropped out of school at the age of 16 to work in burlesque and rose to become a headliner in the Ziegfeld Follies.

Brice was married several times, but it was her relationship with the charming crook Nicky Arnstein, who happily lived off his wife's money while having several affairs (when he wasn't in jail), that captured the imagination and the sympathy of her public – especially when her heartache was made manifest in her signature song, "My Man."

Not surprisingly, Brice's life has inspired writers of stage and film several times. The 1939 film, Rose of Washington Square, was a thinly disguised portrait of Brice (Brice sued and won). The 1964 Broadway musical, Funny Girl, produced by Brice's son-in-law, Ray Stark, and 1968 film of the same name, featured a sanitized version of the star's life. In 2010, a one-woman show about Brice, written and directed by Chip Deffaa and starring Kimberly Faye Greenberg premiered in New Jersey.

This season, One Night with Fanny Brice is making its off-Broadway debut, directed by Deffaa, at St. Luke's Theatre. The show was originally to feature Farah Alvin, but almost at the last minute Greenberg, who is about to celebrate two years of performing the role of Sylvia Fine in Danny & Sylvia, The Danny Kaye Musical (also at St. Luke's), stepped in to replace Alvin, who left the show due to scheduling conflicts.

Greenberg's experience with the show and natural talent make for a happy turn of events. Greenberg gives a moving and often very funny portrayal of the flamboyant star who hobnobbed with the likes of Eddie Cantor, W.C. Fields and Gypsy Rose Lee, and fell for a two-timing crook who spent a good portion of a much belated marriage in jail.

Greenberg sings and dances to such notable Brice hits as "Rose of Washington Square," "Second Hand Rose" and the unforgettable "My Man." She clowns as Brice's famous Baby Snooks, an offshoot of a routine Brice created to entertain friends. And she remains charming and energetic through a two hour show that features an impressive number of songs from Brice's repertoire that includes such favorites as "I'm Always Chasing Rainbows," "After You've Gone" and "A Pretty Girl Is Like a Memory."

Deffaa, whose credits include five different shows about George M. Cohan, The Johnny Mercer Jamboree and the musical comedy The Seven Little Foys, clearly knows how to mine the repertoire of stars for the appropriate gems. He also knows how to pace his show with ballads and upbeat numbers, quiet moments of reflection and exuberant hoofing.

Fanny Brice has been dead for sixty years. But this season Brice will come alive again for one night, four times a week.

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