A Female Breadwinner??!! **GASP**

By Jasmine Jain

If you’re a musical theatre geek (like myself), surely the name Fanny Brice makes you light up. Fanny Brice is the leading lady in Jule Styne, Bob Merrill, and Isobel Lennart’s musical Funny Girl. The musical was first performed on Broadway in 1964, but the production I recently watched was filmed live on stage at Manchester’s Palace Theatre in 2018 under the direction of Robert Delamere and Michael Mayer. Ricky Milling edited the film, and did so beautifully through zoomed in and out panels of the actors. Funny Girl portrays the talented life of Fanny Brice (played by Sheridan Smith) with a side of love/heartbreak portrayed through her relationship with Nick Arnstein (Darius Campbell). In this rendition, Smith fantastically portrays Fanny’s character through her facial expressions, choreography, and acting talents. The music also helps craft Fanny’s character a loud and pompous, yet solemn at the same time. Merill (lyricist) and Styne (composer) worked hand in hand to craft the emotional music of Funny Girl. Through the addition of instruments, varying tempos, and repetitive melodies, they tell the story of Fanny in the most emotional and exciting way. Whether through the “I am” songs “Don’t Rain On My Parade” or “I’m the Greatest Star” or the hysterical “Sadie Sadie”, Funny Girl will always remain a classic. I say this, because Funny Girl presents the gender barrier between men and women in a way that makes it easy to understand, providing comic relief while also highlighting its seriousness.
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Smith's Brice is fully confident in her talents and abilities, and she continuously breaks out of the status quo. Today we would look at Brice performing and would probably say something like “slayyyyy,” “you go girl” or even “she’s an independent womannnnn.” But, it pretty much goes without saying that back then in the 1900s, this was definitely not the case. People celebrated Fanny’s success, but the moment she overshadowed Nick Arnstein, everyone started to shake their heads. Fanny was the only one to not notice until her mother pointed out that she basically had her hands around Nick’s neck due to her success. Funny Girl is important because it shows an anomaly to the glorification of the American idea of feminine behavior. Gender and sexuality play a very big, and sometimes lucrative role in musical theatre, and especially within shows performed on Broadway.
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There is a common image of the “perfect American woman,” and Fanny Brice offered a contrast to show the hypocrisy of the time, and even though that may not have been seen when it originally had come out. The effect of watching Funny Girl is seen within society very much so nowadays. Fanny Brice was performing under the talented Florenz Ziegfeld. She provided comical relief, and the theatre profited greatly off her talents. However, Fanny was different from the other Follies women. Ziegfeld presented a distinct image of Americanism in his shows by choosing the most objectively beautiful performers; Fanny served as a contrast to this idea. Ziegfeld was astounded by her ability to be successful while also being herself, and again, in modern days we actively look for this, but back then there was a certain look that was preferred by directors and men in general. We even see this through Fanny’s relationship with Nick. She begins to fawn over him, and he’s looked at as this suave gentleman who could never want to be with someone like herself. However, he chooses to be with Fanny even though he could most likely have his pick of any girl, which is an interesting contrast to what is expected of men like him during that time.
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Even though Nick seems like this amazing person at first, we start to see his personality as his relationship with Fanny begins to develop even more. Specifically, after Fanny agrees to go out with him, and the song “You Are Woman, I Am Man” is performed. The way that Sheridan Smith walks into the scene is hysterical. She walks in and is cracking all these jokes, and not acting as she’s “supposed to”. She presents herself as a strong woman because she refuses to just become enamored with his dreaminess, and demands that he not play with her emotions. During this time period, women were expected to plan their lives around men, and Fanny presents the opposite. Nick admits to being scared of Fanny which is also unusual, but eventually Fanny admits to not knowing when he will make “advances” which is when he goes right into the musical number. This song is intriguing to me, because Nick is trying to convince Fanny to participate in his “advances”, and we see her inner struggle between doing what she thinks she should do and what she wants to do in this situation. The lyrics that particularly stick out to me are as follows: 

“You are woman, I am man/ you are smaller, so I can be taller than”

These particular lyrics are interesting to me, because we see the gender stereotypes from the beginning where there is this idea that a man is greater and stronger and taller than a woman and he tries to feed this to Fanny (someone who doesn’t see the world this way), and thus begins her inner struggle of wanting him, but also not wanting him.
https://www.imdb.com/title/tt8851198/mediaindex?ref_=tt_mv_close This is from IMDb.
The next set of lyrics I find entertaining is when Fanny begins to sing the following: 

“Isn’t this the height of nonchalance/ Furnishing a bed in restaurants?/ Well, a bit of dinner never hurt/ But guess who is gonna be dessert?”

This is when Fanny begins to crack jokes (as she typically does), and calls out male misogyny in a satirical way while also showing us the inner conflict she has between staying true to herself or being the woman she’s expected to be in this time period(submissive to men and what they want). I find it interesting that Fanny goes from singing this kind of a song and dives straight into “Don’t Rain on My Parade”, which is often noted as her “I am” song and also her expression of strength. Not only is this a shocking series of songs, but right after “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” Fanny goes into singing her song “Sadie, Sadie” which also is very different from the vibe of her “I am strong” song. I always find “Sadie, Sadie” to be the first point we see a huge change in Fanny’s character as she begins to fall deeper into the expectations of women at the time. She even calls herself “Ziegfeld's married lady” which allows for her new "characteristic" to be that she is married (the opposite of what she was known for, which was breaking the status quo).
https://www.imdb.com/title/tt8851198/mediaindex?ref_=tt_mv_close This is from IMDb.
Overall, I believe that the director (Robert Delamere and Michael Mayer) did a brilliant job with the way the performance was done to emphasize the gender stereotypes that eventually were soaked up by Fanny unintentionally. After discussing these songs and Fanny’s slow, but progressive, change to becoming more of the typical woman for Nick I also want to point out that Fanny was also still true to herself. I say this because Fanny knew how successful and talented she was throughout the entire show, and never once gave up performing. She also was the “breadwinner” between her and Nick which is what caused a lot of strife between the two of them. To be frank, I believe that the way Nick acted out towards Fanny helping him was immature, ungrateful, and narcissistic. However, this is also me responding to his behaviors as a 19 year old, “woke”, female in the modern world. Back then, Nick’s reaction to a woman being on top was not unusual, but still disappointing. It was normal for a man to feel upset and have his superiority feel diminished at the success of a female counterpart. This was exemplified in Funny Girl and in the modern world it feels like this amazing production can be viewed as a satire about the “old-fashioned” societal norms.
https://giphy.com/explore/old-fashion This Gif was found on Giphy.
The character Fanny Brice created by the musical authors (Merill and Styne) was mostly successful in presenting her as a strong, confident anomaly of a woman that struggles with her place as a woman in society. I also believe that through the way that the song list is set up the story makes her inner struggle between performing and being a good wife/mom even clearer. I also believe that the costumes (made by Victoria Toni) were successful in communicating the struggles that Fanny went through as we saw her dressed glamorously towards the end, but in the beginning of the show we saw her wearing more normal clothing that wouldn’t be identified as fashionable or glamorous. The music and the costumes worked hand in hand to present us with Fanny: the strong, yet troubled woman trying to find her way through a career with a difficult stereotype expected of her. Sheridan Smith also provided the audience with a version of Fanny that was paired with the expectations set by both musical authors and costume designers. Through her facial expressions, increase in confidence while performing, and increased maturity she was able to present us with a Fanny that was strong but also sensitive to what was expected of women.
https://www.imdb.com/title/tt8851198/ This is from IMDb.
https://www.imdb.com/title/tt8851198/mediaindex?ref_=tt_mv_close This is from IMDb.
To wrap up this long-winded assessment of gender and sexuality in Funny Girl (2018), I believe that people watching this today should be looking at this with eyes wide open as to how Fanny broke out of the gender stereotypes of the time, but also not take everything too seriously in terms of what was expected of her. I say this because it is easy for us to become wrapped up in our anger over the way men treated women in the early 1900s, but we shouldn’t look at this production as something to be angry about or “shun” the musical out of spite. Rather, we should view it as something that was terrible, but be proud that Fanny was brave enough to keep her confidence on the up-trend (for the most part), and we should look at it as an example of exactly what we don’t want our society to revert back towards. In absolutely no way am I saying that the way women were treated by men and others within society was right by any means. I really want to emphasize that this is still a struggle for modern women (gender equality), and we have made progressive strides but should continue to learn from the past (by watching shows like this) in order to correct our present times. Gender and sexuality is usually something that is touched on in almost every famous musical, and this is because it is something that is important to be aware of, and also to use it as a tool for learning and understanding what we as a society need to do in order to continue in the fight towards equality within the workplace, and life in general.
https://giphy.com/gifs/feminism-zooey-deschanel-feministic-rants-YRu57gFiFDplK This is from Giphy.