Funny Girl: The Restored Film

August 2001 - Ziegfeld Theater, NYC

Review by John Kenrick

Oh what joy it is to sit in a full-size movie theater with a block-wide screen, munching on fresh popcorn and watching a great musical movie!

These are not just memories of my childhood. Since the film version of Funny Girl has just been restored and sonically digitalized for its upcoming release on DVD, someone had the jolly idea of showing it off on big screens in several cities. Visually, the results are handsome, with explosions of lush color. A few scenes seem a bit grainy, but I cannot testify whether or not they were just as grainy when the film premiered – I did not see this gem on a big screen until my college years.  It certainly looks better than I ever remembered, and seeing such a spectacle in its full wide screen glory is a visceral delight.

This film was always celebrated for its garish use of color, and those colors are more outrageous than ever – perfectly appropriate for a 1960's attempt to recapture the early 20th Century. (Of course, it was all the easier seeing this in the Ziegfeld, with its red velvet walls and cartoonish, oversized crystal and brass wall sconces.) This is the "roadshow version," with an overture, full intermission and entre act. This ploy was used by several 1960's musical extravaganzas to give a more "theatrical" experience to moviegoers in key cities. It is a bit campy, but fans will love it – and yes, they plan to include these in the DVD release. the overall sound quality is dynamite – at times almost too much, but that's part of the fun.

Seeing Barbra Streisand's breakout performance on a big screen again is a sock to the jaw and a lift to the heart. Wow! You may think you remember how this felt, but trust me – its a revelation to go there again. Musical lovers and Barbra fans alike will find this as fresh and thrilling as ever. I had forgotten how perfect Omar Shariff and Walter Pigeon are here, and I will probably never tire of Kay Medford's hilarious and endearing performance as Mama Brice. The legendary William Wyler achieved some stunning effects that must be seen in wide screen to be fully appreciated, and the entire production team contributed to a genuine visual feast.

As I noted when reviewing the acclaimed Paper Mill Playhouse revival of Funny Girl earlier this year, the Jule Styne-Bob Merrill score is still a treat. Here it is augmented by songs the real Fanny made famous, particularly "My Man." We also get a hilarious takeoff on "Swan Lake," with Streisand cutting up in a tutu. (The film makes little note of it, but her handsome prince is Tommy Rall, former dancing star of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and Kiss Me Kate.) The afternoon screening I attended had a small but delighted audience. Despite limited publicity, musical buffs were out in such force that I unexpectedly bumped into half a dozen friends. And every one of them was delighted with the restoration. Not only were we all planning to grab the DVD (set for release in late October), but most were already planning return trips to the Ziegfeld. After all, the release is scheduled to last at least two weeks.

If this big screen release of Funny Girl comes to a theater near you, you'd be crazy to miss it. And if you don't own a DVD player yet, get with the program kiddo! Its time to relive this "beautiful reflection" of the golden age of musical theater and film. Hey Mr. Ziegfeld – here she is!!!

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