Feb ’10 Spotlight

I arrive at the Drury Lane Oakbrook, eager to see their new production of Funny Girl. I sit down Playbill in hand, and quickly notice something most surprising: Sara Sheperd, starring as Fanny Brice, has almost no professional credits.

“I graduated from Cincinnati Conservatory of Music in ’08,” Sara told me, when I called to follow-up. Even so, this is Sara’s second turn as Fanny: “I did this show in high school actually, so it’s been really cool to revisit it seven years later.”

It’s like watching Frances Gumm turn into Judy Garland right before our eyes, and in fact, the Garland reference is spot on: “I started doing Community Theater when I was like five. My freshman year of high school, we did The Wiz, and I played ‘Dorothy.’ That’s when I figured out I could do this.” Indeed, she can!

Credit for discovering Sara goes to casting director Laura Stanczyk. “Over a year ago, Laura was casting a show at the Kennedy Center. I went in and sang Funny Girl stuff. I didn’t book that job, but then my agent called and said: ‘Laura really wants you to come in for this.’ It all happened super fast!”

Funny Girl, the musical biography of Ziegfeld Follies star Fanny Brice, premiered on Broadway in 1964 (book by Isobel Lennart; music by Jule Styne; lyrics by Bob Merrill). As everyone with any knowledge of musical theater already knows, the original star of Funny Girl was Barbra Streisand. And every cinemaphile can tell you Streisand received an Oscar in 1969 when she played Fanny Brice again in William Wilder’s screen adaptation. But that was more than a generation ago.

“I’m confident enough to know I’m not Barbra Streisand, and I’m not trying to be her. That’s just so not the goal,” Sara said. “Fanny Brice was a real person, so I just want to do it justice, tell this story the best that I can.”

It’s exhilarating to see new talent on the rise, and it’s also great to hear the original Styne/Merrill score again (which has several wonderful numbers not in the film). This is a win/win for both the star and her audience. “Oh yeah,” Sara said. “I’m living the dream right now!”

Drury Lane Oakbrook’s production of Funny Girl runs through March 7.

To order tickets, call the Box Office at (630) 530-0111, or visit www.drurylaneoakbrook.com.

To read my full chat with Sara, visit: www.films42.com/chats/SaraSheperd.asp

 

Lectures

The worldwide Limmud Jewish education movement has finally reached Chicago, and local organizers have planned a cornucopia of splendid sounding sessions scheduled for Sunday, February 14 at Oakton Community College in Des Plaines.

Registration begins at 8:45 AM, and the last set of lectures concludes at 10 PM. The online guide provides summaries of 79 speakers addressing topics arranged in ten different tracks (Body/Spirit, Contemporary Jewish Life, History, Israel, Performing Arts/Culture, Philosophy, Politics, Ritual/Prayer/Holidays, Social Action/Social Justice, and Text). There’s also a separate track for children’s programming.

Looking just at my own niche (Performing Arts/Culture), many names on the schedule should already be familiar to regular readers of this column, including David Chack, Dina Elenbogen, Aaron Freeman, Sharon Rosenzweig, and Jan Schwarz. Full disclosure, my own name is there too: I’ll be giving an update of my August program on Sholem Aleichem’s Stempenyu (currently available as a podcast on www.juf.org).

To register, visit: www.LimmudChicago.org

Curtain Call

Margaret Olin gave a terrific lecture on Jan 10 in connection with the Anna Shteynshleyger exhibit currently on display in Cobb Hall at the University of Chicago. After many years at the Art Institute, Olin is now Senior Research Scholar at the Yale Divinity School. Her lecture, Jewish Space, asked us consider what makes a specific space “Jewish.” Starting with Shteynshleyger’s depiction of her grandmother’s empty apartment in Moscow, Olin segued gracefully from the work of sculptor George Segal to photographs of eruvim in various American and Israeli cities. Fascinating!

There’s still time to see the exhibit, and hear one or both of the last two tie-in programs. Leora Auslander, Professor of Modern European Social History at the University of Chicago (and member of both the Center for Gender Studies as well as the Committee on Jewish Studies), will present Sexy Challahs, Pregnant Shabbat Candlesticks, and Women with Sidelocks: Anna Shteynshleyger’s Embodied Judaism on Feb 7. On closing day (Feb 14), University of Pennsylvania poet Charles Bernstein will do a reading from his own contribution to the new collection Radical Poetics and Secular Jewish Culture.

Both programs begin at 2 PM and are free and open to the public. For complete information, visit: www.RenaissanceSociety.org.

 

Tzivi’s DVD Collection

 

By the time this column hits your mailbox, Quentin Tarantino’s new film Inglorious Basterds will likely be a candidate for several 2010 Academy Awards. Carrying the tagline: “Once upon a time in Nazi occupied France…,” Inglorious Basterds is a WWII fantasy in which specially-recruited Jewish-American soldiers, led by Brad Pitt as “Lieutenant Aldo Raine,” take brutal revenge on hapless members of the Third Reich.

What to make of all of this? I, for one, found the 153 minute run time grueling, with long stretches of yawn-inducing dialogue punctuated by horrific but very predictable bursts of violence. On the whole, I thought Inglorious Basterds worked so hard at being clever that it came closer to performance art than cinema.

Me, I prefer Mel Brooks’ invitation to dance on Hitler’s grave, so my DVD picks for February are The Producers. Brooks first released The Producers in 1968 as an 88-minute low budget farce. Zero Mostel starred as washed-up impresario “Max Bialystock,” supported by Gene Wilder as nebbishy accountant “Leo Bloom,” and Brooks took home a Best Original Screenplay Oscar. The 2005 film version, on the other hand, is a hugely expensive, elaborately staged musical starring Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick. Nevertheless, the basic plot points remain constant, and every time I hear the tune Springtime for Hitler, I’m consoled once again by the old adage: She who laughs last, laughs best!

To read my full review, visit: http://www.films42.com/columns/TheProducersReviewDF.pdf

*****

Jan Lisa Huttner (Tziviah Bat Yisroel v’ Hudah) is the managing editor of Films for Two: The Online Guide for Busy Couples (www.films42.com). Send comments and/or suggestions for future columns to: tzivi (at) msn (dot) com

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