By Richard Schultz, November 2016 Issue.
When Liz Fallon accepted her most recent leading role, she knew she has taken on quite a challenge. And she’s more than ready for it.
Fallon stars as Fanny Brice in Arizona Broadway Theatre’s latest production the musical Funny Girl, the same role that launched Barbra Streisand’s ascent into stardom both on the Broadway stage and in film.
Fallon acknowledges Streisand’s imprint on the role and even plans to utilize a few of Streisand’s touches as part of her portrayal.
“Well, of course I’m influenced by Barbara Streisand. I grew up watching Funny Girl the movie with my mom and singing “My Man” and the rest of the soundtrack with my aunt,” Fallon said. “The film is such a wonderful part of musical theater history and is a small part of what influenced me to pursue acting.”
Fanny Brice was one of the most celebrated entertainers of her time and starred in the Ziegfeld Follies, Hollywood films and on the radio. With humor, talent and chutzpah, young Fanny, an awkward Jewish girl who “isn’t pretty,” defies the odds and becomes one of the greatest stars of her generation. Her rise to super-stardom and her turbulent romance with gambler Nick Arnstein, is explored through Bob Merrill and Jule Styne’s unforgettable Funny Girl score, which includes “I’m the Greatest Star,” “Don’t Rain On My Parade,” “People,” “The Music That Makes Me Dance” and “You Are Woman, I Am Man.”
As Fallon prepared for the lead role, she read the biography Fanny Brice: The Original Funny Girl. Although the musical isn’t exactly historically accurate, Fallon said she admires Brice’s drive and sees parallels to her own career in the theater.
“Personally, the sacrifice and perseverance hit home for me,” she said. “Being an actress is incredibly rewarding, but it takes a lot of drive. Fanny is inspirational; she never quits. She keeps trucking until she gets what she wants.”
According to Fallon, she particularly relates to the beginning scenes where Fanny is trying to break into theater, but doesn’t fit in with or look like the other girls. And as a New York-based actor, Fallon has dealt with that dynamic in every audition.
“During the ‘busy season,’ you’re at seven or 10 auditions a week. They are long days. You’re usually too short, too tall, too big, or too small for someone’s show,” she said. “Most times, you do just want to pull a Fanny and scream, ‘somebody give me a chance! I’m a bagel on a plateful of onion rolls!’”
Fallon believes that everyone can relate to the show’s themes of unconditional love and sacrifice.
“Funny Girl is such a great show, but it’s more than fun dance numbers and big songs,” she said. “It has so much heart.”
Above all, Fallon insists that the musical is truly a love story, and that’s what renders the show timeless.
“There are so many different kinds of love in the show,” she pointed out, “unconditional love, romantic love, self love, the love between a parent and a child, the love between friends and between co-workers. Some of the themes in the show are universal.”
The stage and film versions do differ in several ways. For example, instead of the “Swan Lake” number in Act II, there’s “Rat Tat Tat Tat”, a WWI military-themed tap number. The stage version also offers more insight into Fanny’s relationship with her husband, Nick Arnstein, played by Jamie Parnell. Fallon feels that “Who Are You Now,” a simple, but gorgeous ballad in Act Two, reflects on how much Nick means to her, and hopes that he feels the same.
Fallon emphasizes that her research helped her develop insights into Brice and what made her tick. Yet, her portrayal of the character will be distinctively her own.
“The great thing about acting and theater is that it’s so personal. So, while I’d love to be Babs or Fanny Brice, I never will be. My Fanny is going to have a lot of Liz Fallon in her, but with the heart, mind and goals of Fanny Brice, as told in the musical.”
With a smile, she adds, “And with a sprinkle or two of Babs, just for kicks.”
Through Nov. 13
Arizona Broadway Theatre
7701 West Paradise Lane, Peoria
Tickets: $77-$98; 623-776-8400