The Marital Power Struggle: Who Wins?

Funny Girl: a Broadway musical where the woman holds power over the man…or does she? The West End revival of the musical Funny Girl (2018; BroadwayHD) was directed by Michael Mayer and stars Sheridan Smith as Fanny Brice and Darius Campbell as Nick Arnstein. It biographizes the life and love of Fanny Brice through her journey of becoming, and then thriving as, one of the most famous Ziegfeld Follies performers. The question at hand…who held the power, Fanny or Nick? I’m going to take two songs from the musical and analyze them in an in-depth, systematic way, and see if I can convince you, the reader, to come to a conclusion.

First, in the song “Sadie, Sadie” from the second act, Fanny and Nick have just gotten married, and the song describes Fanny’s thoughts and plans for her new life as a wife. The lyricist, Bob Merrill, has Fanny sing: “Nick says nothing is too good for me,” which makes it seem as if she hasn’t believed she’s been deserving of nice things until a man came around and told her so. Fanny glorifies these pretty words from a man rather than believing in her own self-worth. Smith lets the lyrics do most of the talking during this number with very few deviations from relaxed, lackadaisical movements. This choreography further enhances her now being a married woman who is supposed to rely on her husband. Merrill even has the company sing similarly interpreted lyrics, as heard with “Not every girl can get herself/A guy who looks like Nick.” As an attractive male, Nick sits on a higher pedestal than the average looking woman with no regard to her success or her accomplishments. It’s as if Nick can do better than someone like Fanny or on the flip side, Fanny doesn’t deserve to be with someone like Nick; it’s an honor that he glanced at her at all, much less married her. Although Smith does put a comedic spin on the song with her exaggerated actions of her relaxed day-to-day activities as a wife and her over the top facial expressions that illustrate the bliss she feels about being married, it still doesn’t take away from the words of the song diminishing her to solely Nick’s wife, or a “Sadie” as the song puts it. Despite Fanny being the musical’s main character, who eventually rises to entertainment stardom, this particular song diminishes her into one thing: the average wife of an attractive man.

Sheridan Smith as Fanny Brice during the song “Sadie, Sadie” in the 2018 production of Funny Girl in the West End

Then, Mr. Arnstein, the businessman, is in need of sixty-eight thousand dollars so he can open a casino somewhere in Florida. He needs investors, but because he is in fact a father, and has to babysit his own kid so Fanny can go back to work and make money for the family (because he’s not making any), he’s out of luck. But who swoops in and saves the day? That’s right! Fanny. She provides him with his money because she claims that “[They] are in a real marriage/And what’s [hers] is [his].” He then suddenly starts singing “Temporary Arrangement,” beginning with the lyrics, “Please Fanny don’t hold so tight,” as if Fanny giving him money is somehow stifling. Campbell accentuates this with the discordance between each line of this part of the song and then with his head-shaking and how he moves his hands in an abrupt, authoritarian way when he sings “You’ve got to just set her straight.” The song emphasizes that his lack of money is only “a temporary estrangement/From the crystal dish and the silver knife.” The number includes a minute long dance break for Campbell where choreographer Lynne Page sets Campbell’s moves in a very smooth and suave way, matching the song’s lyrics and showing the audience how Arnstein wants to be presented, despite his less than ideal circumstances. In this case, Fanny is the provider, but Nick discredits her because his current financial position is only temporary; he never even thanks her for her contribution. The woman provides for the man, making him insecure.

Darius Campbell as Nick Arnstein at the end of the song “Temporary Arrangement” performed in the West End

In the first song, a man has power over a woman, and in second a woman has power over a man. But who really holds the power? Fanny is Nick’s wife, yet he barely acknowledges her help. Nick eventually leaves Fanny and their child, never to be heard from again, while Fanny continues performing with the Ziegfeld Follies as a famous comic, mourning her failed marriage to a man she’ll probably always love. Does Fanny being a divorcee make her any less exceptional both as a person and as a performer? Does Nick leaving Fanny cause his reputation to be ruined? When looking at who really had the power in the relationship, Nick seems to triumph. Despite him not being the financial provider, he still has the freedom to come and go as he pleases, which in the end he makes the choice to go indefinitely. This freedom stems from the fact that Nick is an attractive man, which automatically puts him on a pedestal in the society of that time. Fanny has the money and the fame, but she is lacking society standardized beauty, and she has the higher chance of getting hurt. As seen by her being left to be a single mother by the man she loves. Nick clearly has the power and the advantage in this relationship, where he can do with Fanny and her love as he pleases.