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Review: Kalla Mort shines as Fanny Brice in ‘Funny Girl’ at Spokane Civic Theatre

UPDATED: Thu., April 14, 2022

Kalla Mort portrays Fanny Brice in Spokane Civic Theatre's "Funny Girl" through April 24.  (Courtesy)
Kalla Mort portrays Fanny Brice in Spokane Civic Theatre's "Funny Girl" through April 24. (Courtesy)

To repeat what I’m sure is a cold take by now, for a show titled “Funny Girl,” the story is a remarkably sad one.

Set in New York City before and following World War I, “Funny Girl” is a semi-biographical musical account of the life of Ziegfeld Follies star Fanny Brice and her loving but ultimately toxic relationship with gambler-businessman Nicky Arnstein.

The crowning jewel of Spokane Civic Theatre’s production of “Funny Girl” is Kalla Mort in the lead role of Fanny Brice. In her second number, Fanny sings, “I’m the greatest star, I am by far, but no one knows it.”

But, Fanny, we do know it. Because the second she opens her mouth to sing, everything melts away, and the show is hers. The show is worth seeing solely to hear her voice.

The story plays out in a flashback. On the day Nicky (Joseph Quintana) is set to be released from prison, Fanny sits at her dressing room table, reminiscing.

The scene changes, and we meet a teenage Fanny still struggling to land her first vaudeville role. Her mother Rose (Melody Deatherage) discourages her from pursuing a life onstage because “if a girl isn’t pretty,” she might as well go home.

Fanny learns the audition numbers with help from her friend Eddie (Jonah Taylor). Taylor is an excellent vocal and energetic counterpart to Mort, and it’s a real shame we aren’t given more interactions between their characters.

Despite initial pushback, Fanny forges ahead and convinces the vaudeville show director to give her a chance (“I’m the Greatest Star”).

“The greatest star … by far,” Fanny goes on to headline the Ziegfeld Follies, ending the show within a show’s closing number with her own comic twist in “His Love Makes Me Beautiful.” Shoutout to chorus member Gatieh Nacario on the number’s introductory solo.

After the show, Fanny meets Nick, an allegedly worldly man in a ruffled shirt with a history of gambling. Nick, we are led to believe, sees Fanny for the talent she is – and to her, he is the peak of sophistication and good looks.

Already falling in love, Fanny invites Nick to an opening night afterparty at her childhood home on “Henry Street.” The pair part ways at the end of the night after Fanny delivers a stunning performance of “People.”

But after a short separation, the two reunite in Baltimore and admit their feelings. Determined to marry Nick, and exuding a newfound sort of Mae West energy, Fanny sings “Don’t Rain on My Parade.”

The couple marry and start a family. Meanwhile, Fanny continues to flourish in her starring role with the Ziegfeld Follies. Unfortunately, Nick’s ambitions seem to be thwarted at every turn. Predictably, the disparity starts to chip away at their marriage, but she perseveres regardless.

Despite everyone in Fanny’s life doing their utmost to drag her down in one way or another, she continues to rise above just as Mort’s voice shines through right to the end.

Directed by Jake Schaefer with musical direction by Henry McNulty, the show runs through April 24. Performances begin at 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 2 p.m. Sundays. In observation of Easter, Sunday’s performance will be at 7:30 p.m.

For more information, visit spokanecivictheatre.com and call (509) 325-2507.

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