From 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