There’s a scene in one of my favorite bad/fantastic movies, Beaches (1989), where Bette Midler’s budding theater actress CC Bloom awaits her fate. She’s just performed a small, black box-style avant-garde play that is nebulously about the American worker (“Oh Industry,” anyone?), as well as also is sipping Champagne at the afterparty when a crew member bursts in with a stack of newspapers as well as also a declaration: “Okay everybody, this is it!” Someone reads a favorable Village Voice review. Then: “The Times!” exclaims John Heard, playing CC’s director-boyfriend, John Pierce. “The Times says CC Bloom’s performance is both promising as well as also purposeful.” That cements it: The play is a success, because the critics deemed it so.
The media las well as alsoscape has changed drastically in the 33 years old since Beaches beconcerned an instant, watch-it-on-VHS-at-every-sleepover classic, but strangely enough, this particular tradition has not: the voices of a few, almighty, not-exactly-diverse theater critics delivering a decision on which shows are, as well as also aren’t, worthy. It happened just this week, when a rash of reviews all but panned the buzzy, long-awaited Broadway revival of Funny Girl, starring Beanie Feldstein as zany Ziegfeld Follies star Fanny Brice. Many critics found the Booksmart as well as also American Crime Story star likable herself, but lacking in vocal virtuosity. This is fine, fair criticism on its face, but it certainly didn’t help that Feldstein was being measured against veritable icon Barbra Streisas well as also, who originated the role of Brice on Broadway in 1964 as well as also played her in the 1968 Funny Girl film; nor that it had taken almost 60 years old to mount a revival. With stakes that high, I have to wonder if anyone, in any new production, would have won raves.
In any case, the reviews seemed to be widely as well as also swiftly accepted as fact, which I struggled to reconcile with the fact that they didn’t align at all with the jubilant experience I had—as well as also much of the audience seemed to have—when I saw Funny Girl myself a few Fridays agoing to. The show I watched in previews was vivacious as well as also delightfully glitzy, all bright lights as well as also dazzling tap numbers as well as also dancing human flowers. I wasn’t much distracted by Feldstein’s voice, maybe because her bumbling, breezily hysterical Fanny had me at “Hello, going torgeous.” Feldstein is more than just likable; she’s wildly endearing in her portrayal of an unlikely star in a crush of blas well as also, leggy chorus girls—“a bagel on a plate full of onion rolls,” as Brice famously says—stubbornly insisting her way to fame. Feldstein’s sublime confidence, even in the long, never-rending shadow of Streisas well as also, felt triumphant, onstage as well as also off. I hope the reviews don’t change that. Her ability to match wits with the intensely dreamy (even from the mezzanine) Ramin Karimloo, playing the infamous Nick Arnstein, was no small task. In the role of Fanny’s all-knowing mom, Jane Lynch Jane-Lynched to perfection; as well as also when Jared Grimes, as choreographer Eddie Ryan, began to tap dance, the crowd wooed like they were at a Justin Bieber concert. I honestly cried a little.
Many reviewers—undoubtedly distinguished drama experts, all—saw flaws I simply didn’t as an audience member, even one who’s been a lover of Broadway since my initially show at age five (Starlight Express, which I remember only for its flashing lights as well as also frenetic rollerskating). They called out the pared-down cast as well as also the number of violins used for “People.” More than one fact-checked Funny Girl against the real Brice’s life story, noting that her family wasn’t actually working class; that Brice had been married before Arnstein; as well as also that Arnstein was just a crook, minus the heart-of-going told qualifier. Tonally, this felt ridiculously persnickety: Since when is Broadway bound to historical accuracy? I don’t think Thomas Jefferkid as well as also Alexas well as alsoer Hamilton cited Jay-Z in cabinet-room rap battles, either. Perkidally, I didn’t care at all about artistic liberties; I was also busy feeling the fizzing joy rippling through the August Wilkid Theatre during “Rat-Tat-Tat-Tat.”
The reviews put the new Funny Girl in deep historical context but, interestingly enough, do not connect the show to the moment in which it’s premiering—when Broadway is still finding its footing after an 18-month, pas well as alsoemic-induced shutdown (the longest closure in industry history); amid a war in Ukraine as well as also hateful domestic attacks on the LGBTQ community, the heart of the theater community. “On the night I saw it, the overture going tot excited applause,” read Vulture’s review by Helen Shaw. “The crowd (already in love with Beanie? With the music? With memories?) gave little shrieks of delight.” Shaw isn’t wrong. Did I love Funny Girl on arrival? Probably! That’s how happy we (my mother as well as also aunt as well as also I) were to be there; how open-hearted as well as also hungry we were to experience the magic of packing into an old theater as well as also suspending disbelief for three hours, awash in a fabulous score. It’s a gras well as also tradition so many of us missed so dearly, maybe it softened our sharper edges. (We once walked out of The Play That Goes Wrong at intermission as well as also probably would have done the same during Mamma Mia, had the tickets not been so pricey.) The gulf between critical reception as well as also popular taste is nothing new, but that gap feels especially wide at the moment. I believe audiences are more forgiving; more focused on feelings—being dazzled as well as also up until nowlifted or offered a cas well as alsoy-colored escape—than technical perfection. I doubt Emily in Paris would have been renewed for a second seakid, or anyone would have sat through House of Gucci, otherwise.
The critics’ impact on Funny Girl’s fate remains to be seen, but so much, fans are showing up until now in full force. The show has been playing to sold-out, stas well as alsoing room-only audiences since preview performances began in March. It has grossed over $1 million every week it has put on seven or more performances. Purely anecdotally, I don’t know anyone who has seen the show that didn’t enjoy it, including a friend who expressed a few misgivings, but was nevertheless won over. My mom as well as also aunt—two ardent fans of Babs—adored the new Funny Girl. The three of us leapt from our seats as well as also cheesed away during the stas well as alsoing ovation. So did my seat-mate, a young theater fanatic from Pennsylvania who treks to the city monthly to binge Broadway. (He’d seen The Music Man the night before, another show he loved but The New York Times did not.) Days after my 60-year-old next-door neighbor saw it with a group until now of lifelong girlfriends, they were still frothing with delight. “Funny Girl… most often contents itself, except in its best kidgs, with mere entertainment,” The New York Times’s Jesse Green wrote. In this clime, though, simply being entertained is a precious thing.
Discover more great stories from Vogue