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Barbra Streisand, Beanie Feldstein, and the original "Funny Girl," Fanny Brice

Beanie Feldstein on playing Fanny Brice, the original "Funny Girl"
Beanie Feldstein on playing Fanny Brice, the original "Funny Girl" 08:02

This is a story of three women: Barbra Streisand, whose performance in "Funny Girl" on Broadway marked the arrival of an exciting and unlikely leading lady, and whose Oscar-winning turn in the 1968 movie shot her into the stratosphere; Beanie Feldstein, the actress and comedienne who, 58 years after Streisand opened in the show, is starring in Broadway's very first revival of "Funny Girl"; and the original Funny Girl herself: Fanny Brice, the barrier-breaking star whose life was the inspiration for the musical.

"I was very in love with her ambition, her unapologetic spirit," Feldtsein told correspondent Mo Rocca. "Something just happens when you get to play Fanny – this just sort of belief in yourself!"

Belief in herself (and talent) propelled Brice to the heights. Born in 1891 to immigrant Jewish parents, Fanny was an eighth-grade dropout who began singing in pool halls, then in burlesque and vaudeville, before starring in "The Ziegfeld Follies," the apex of entertainment in its day.

Fanny Brice performs "Second Hand Rose":

Fanny Brice - Second Hand Rose 1922 version by warholsoup100 on YouTube

Barbara W. Grossman, a theater professor at Tufts University and author of the biography "Funny Woman," wrote that Brice was "literally built for comedy."

"This is the era of the pert little showgirl with the upturned nose and the halo of blonde curls and the big blue eyes," she told Rocca. "That wasn't Brice. She had a big nose, she had a wide mouth. She knew she was a sight gag, and she played up that aspect of her physicality. She knew she couldn't be the prettiest girl on the stage, [so] she was gonna be the funniest."

Brice could make 'em laugh, and she could make 'em cry. Audiences knew that when she sang "My Man" (her signature), she was singing about her ill-fated marriage with con artist Nick Arnstein:

Fanny Brice - My Man (1938) by GoldenEraDame on YouTube

But by the time Streisand starred in "Funny Girl" on Broadway, Brice – who'd died in 1951 – was largely forgotten. The 21-year-old Streisand made the role very much her own. As she explained in a 1964 opening night backstage radio interview, she didn't research Brice's life beforehand: "No, I didn't want to approach it as an imitation. They hired me because of whatever organic things we have similar. It's not a biography."


Streisand's ownership of the role is at least one reason "Funny Girl" hasn't been revived until now, said Ted Chapin, former head of the Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization, who admits to being old enough to have seen Streisand twice in the original stage production. "And I just remember being totally dazzled," he told Rocca.

"I think it probably is the Barbra factor, but I have a feeling that when people have thought about doing a revival of it, they've looked at the actual show and thought, 'Oh, wait a minute, maybe the charisma that Streisand brought to it got us through this show, and made people overlook some of the dramatic bumps in the road."

Indeed, while Streisand received raves back in 1964, the show itself got mediocre reviews. The revival's script has been reworked by Tony-winner Harvey Fierstein, for a cast that includes Jane Lynch as the mother of the new Funny Girl.

Enter Beanie Feldstein. The sister of actor Jonah Hill, Feldstein has already made her own name playing smart, independent and funny women in movies like "Lady Bird" and "Booksmart."

Quoting her character, she told Rocca, "I love 'being a bagel on a plate full of onion rolls.' Any time someone would push me to be something I wasn't, I would be like: but why?"

And it turns out, Feldstein has been preparing to play Fanny Brice most of her life.

Rocca met Feldstein 12 years ago at Stagedoor Manor theater camp in upstate New York, for a story of "CBS Sunday Morning."

To watch Mo Rocca's 2010 story featuring Beanie Feldstein, click on the video player below: 

From 2010: Summer theater camp, starring Beanie Feldstein by CBS Sunday Morning on YouTube

The then-almost-17-year-old camper told Rocca that Barbra Streisand was her favorite actress: "Since the age of two, it's always been Barbra Streisand. My mom put 'Funny Girl' on for me when I was two years old and I watched it every day, 'til the age of five. And I could recite every word for you. And my third birthday was 'Funny Girl'-themed. So, I've always been a Barbra Streisand fan."

Which may explain her reaction when she was asked to audition for the revival.

Rocca asked, "What did you think immediately?"

"Ohmygod, ohmygod, ohmygod, ohmygod," said Feldstein. "This could be the moment that I've always dreamt of, and fear, and self-doubt, and all the things that Fanny doesn't have, but also, like, this door opening up, potentially."

If there is fear and self-doubt, it hasn't been in evidence during the show's rehearsals. Feldstein has thrown herself into the role with the same gumption and, yes, chutzpah as the O.G. Funny Girl.

Beanie Feldstein in "Funny Girl." CBS News

She said, "Any Jewish woman that gets to be themselves on stage owes something to Fanny Brice. There's no Bette Midler, there's no Sarah Silverman, none of us would've had that ability if it wasn't for Fanny smashing through these glass ceilings with that ferocious you're-not-gonna-turn-me-away energy."

And if a certain other star comes to see the new "Funny Girl"?

Rocca asked, "Do you think that Streisand will come to see this production?"

"Well, I don't know. I have no idea. I can't really take it in."

"Would you wanna know …?"

"No! No, no, no, no, no, no, no! Nobody tell me!" Feldstein laughed. "If she even lands in New York, just no one tell me. Just keep it to yourself!"

[By the way, the show opens on April 24 – Barbra Streisand's 80th birthday.]

For more info:

Story produced by Jay Kernis. Editor: Ed Givnish. 

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