New Movies: Streisand Special

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"PEEEEE-pull, peepul who need PEEEEE-pullllll. . ." Barbra Streisand, the girl with the voice of a thrush and the beak of a toucan, is back in the musical that made her a household bird. She may have omitted an a from her name, but Barbra leaves nothing out of Funny Girl. Gags, production numbers, vaudeville mugging and tearstained love scenes receive the same manic stress and fervor. As in the Broadway show, when the jokes are good, Barbra displays the best timing East of Mae West. When Jule Styne's numbers are deserving—People, Don't Rain On My Parade—she warms them with meticulous emotional phrasing until they glow like a marquee.

Otherwise, this extended Streisand Special has done absolutely nothing to correct the flaws in the Broadway original. This popcornball backstage biography of Fanny Brice still contains lines out of the Late Show: "You're no chorus girl, you're a singer." "I love to hear an audience applaud, but you can't take an audience home with you." "I can't go—not like this." As Nick Arnstein, Fanny's hard-luck gambler husband, Omar Sharif, of all people, is only required to stand and listen with large liquid eyes. The rest of the cast is simply a Jewish chorus of ooze and ahs mimicking Yiddish locution by ending declarative sentences with a question mark. ("He has polish on his nails?")

The story of Fanny Brice is the fairytale dream of an unprepossessing kid who rose from the ghetto to the Follies on a powerful amalgam of brass and tal ent. Barbra's marked resemblance to Fanny is more than nasal. She is the flip side of Cinderella—the homely gir who made it. Conceivably, it could happen to every unendowed citizen in America. For her fans, that is enough?