REVIEW: Sound issues plague Funny Girl at Spokane Civic Theatre

click to enlarge REVIEW: Sound issues plague Funny Girl at Spokane Civic Theatre (2)
Photo by Marlee Andrews
Fanny Brice (Kalla Mort) performs for Eddie (Jonah Taylor) in Funny Girl.

Spokane Civic Theatre's production of Funny Girl might be a decent show.

Unfortunately, the audience can barely hear it.

It's never feels great putting down a local theatrical production, but in three decades of going to live theater, last Sunday's matinee Funny Girl had by far the worst sound production I've ever experienced. About half the musical is unintelligible. It's a shame because the sound issues render everyone else's efforts — from the star performers to the excellent costume designers — a moot point. You can't have a good show if you can't understand what the characters are saying.

Funny Girl tells the semi-biographical tale of Fanny Brice, partially detailing the early career and relationships of the comedic Broadway star during the 1910s. She rises from outcast performer to center stage star and finds romantic intrigue along the way. The musical was adapted for screen in 1968, which led to Barbra Streisand winning an Oscar for Best Actress.

The Civic's production stars Kalla Mort as the titular funny girl. In spite of the technical snafus, she chews up the scenery in the role, playing it rather broad but in a fun-spirited way. She's countered by her two male co-stars, Joseph Quintana as as the dashing gambler and beau Nick Arnstein, and Jonah Taylor as Fanny's spurned choreographer friend, Eddie Ryan.

Taylor brings a certain aww-shucks nice guy air to Eddie, even if sometimes it veers into hammy. Quintana has a composed charm as Nick, but there's a characterization issue. Throughout the script, the characters repeatedly talk about how Nick is unbelievably handsome, but he comes off more cartoonish than stunning, with an extremely old-timey mustache and top hat that makes him look more like a Snidely Whiplash than a head-turning gentleman. Rounding out the main players is Fanny's mom Rose, played by Melody Deatherage, who sticks out because her delightfully charismatic and blustery performance includes projecting enough to negate the sound problems.
click to enlarge REVIEW: Sound issues plague Funny Girl at Spokane Civic Theatre
Photo by Marlee Andrews
Fanny (Mort) and Nick Arnstein (Joseph Quintana) share a tender moment.

Funny Girl
's script also feels quite dated. Besides being very loose with the actual facts of Brice's life, it just doesn't feel like it hits the mark that often. It asks the audience to believe that Brice is one of the comedic stars of her time but it tells us she's funny more than showing it. Sure, she has some quips, but nothing more than a few chuckle lines here and there. It also doesn't do a great job treating Brice with respect, as her appearance is the butt of jokes without much pushback and she further gets blamed for other characters' bad decisions without a ton of defense. While Funny Girl certainly is a product of the 1960s, if the script were released today it would feel incredibly lazy.

But again, the main issue is you simply can't hear the characters for much of the show. While the sound is passable in most talking scenes (though a couple of the supporting cast clearly had microphones that simply weren't turned on, so anytime they said something you knew you weren't going to hear it), it was a disaster for all the musical numbers. The blaring horns and pounding drums present in most of the show's musical numbers drown out the singers. The audience is left to strain to listen in order parse together the words in hopes that they're following along with any plot advancements and catching any jokes. A musical without clear lyrics is merely a big band show with garbled words over the top.

The only musical number that fully lands is "People" (one of the musical's two iconic songs, alongside "Don't Rain on My Parade"). It works because it's the number where the orchestration is the most subdued while it's the song where Brice does the most emotional belting. Mort totally nails the moment, making it the highlight of the show while also showing what might've been if you could actually hear the other songs.

Funny Girl  • Thru April 24; Thur-Sun at 7:30 pm; Sun, April 24 at 2 pm • $36 • Spokane Civic Theatre • 1020 N. Howard St. • • 509-325-2507