The following is an interview with Bryan Snodgrass (director), Ryan Luevano (musical director, President of Conundrum Theatre Company), and Jackie Brenneman (actress, “Fanny Brice”), the creative team behind Conundrum Theatre Company‘s currently running production of Funny Girl at The Colony Theatre in Burbank, CA. In this interview, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief Barbra Dillon chats with Snodgrass, Luevano, and Brenneman about the musical’s adaption, the theatre’s partnership with Friends of the Rialto, Brenneman’s approach to portraying Fanny Brice, where readers may purchase tickets, and more!
Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: Conundrum Theatre Company is currently hosting a production of the classic musical, Funny Girl, which was made famous by Barbra Streisand. As CTC’s mission is to “bring new and exciting interpretations of classic and original theatre works to Los Angeles audiences,” how has the 1960s classic been adapted for today’s audiences?
Bryan Snodgrass: We really wanted to scale down the production elements to let the acting and intimacy of this beautifully written show shine through. We didn’t want the large, elaborate set pieces that most productions have. We wanted the actors to be the main focal point and give the audience the chance to join these characters in their emotional journey through the music and classic moments.
BD: The production is also being staged in conjunction with the Friends of the Rialto in Pasadena to help restore their historic 90-year-old theatre. How did this partnership come about, and how are you endeavoring to raise the necessary funds or awareness for the project?
Ryan Luevano: Conundrum Theatre Co’s partnership with the Friends of the Rialto came about due to Jackie Brenneman and my involvement with the organization separate of Conundrum. We decided to partner with them to help restore their theatre because of the vital importance of preserving historic theatres and bringing them back to life with the performing arts. With the Friends of the Rialto, we wanted to get the word out to raise both awareness and donations from the Los Angeles community to bring back this classic building. In the next couple of months, Friends of the Rialto plans on hosting events at the Rialto Theatre in an effort to show people the possibilities of the space and let them know our plans to manage, renovate, and restore the theatre.
BD: Jackie, taking on a role as iconic as Fanny Brice is truly an honor and certainly an exciting opportunity for any actor. What has been your approach to defining Fanny as a character, and what do you find most identifiable about her?
Jackie Brenneman: First, I know that most people are expecting to hear and see Barbra Streisand rather than Fanny Brice, and that just isn’t me. I knew I had to learn about the real Fanny Brice and find what makes her so much like every other person out there trying to fight for their dreams. To prepare for this role, I read Norman Katkov’s The Fabulous Fanny–twice. I also watched the available footage of Fanny housed on YouTube (a big shout-out to modern technology!) to get a sense of her style of humor and mannerisms. What I did not do is watch the film version of Funny Girl! I then went through the script and tried to really attach Fanny’s onstage journey with what I learned about the real woman. There are some wonderful quotes by her or about her that I wrote in the script’s pages to always remind myself that this is her story.
As for what I find most identifiable about her–that one’s a real doozy. In reading her story, so much of it felt like my own ridiculous backstory, right down to her scheming childhood. (We both liked to use our younger siblings as props in our fiendish plans for attention and free candy.) I think there is a core aspect of her personality that really resonated with me. She was shockingly analytical and so easily able to read people–traits I have exploited in my own background as an anthropologist/lawyer/actress/friend; however, much like Fanny, I am not as great at reading myself as I pretend to be. I think Fanny and I are both intensely emotional women who hide behind logic and wit. Ultimately, I think Fanny was someone you could trust because even if she lied to herself, she was never a phony. I love this about her, because as someone who spent so much of my life wishing I knew the secret to being “normal,” I am so happy in my adulthood to be marching my band out and beating my own drum.
BD: Bryan, as the director, what can you share with us about the talented cast and crew involved with Funny Girl, and how would you describe the creative process involved with the show?
BS: We have an amazing cast and crew with various degrees of experience in the theatre. For some, they have done numerous shows and worked professionally onstage. For others, it’s their first show, so it’s been great working with such diversity of talent. Our creative process started 2 years ago when we decided this would be our inaugural production. There’s been a lot of research done on this show, and it has been a true passion project for many of us on the production team. It’s been great to get the creative process rolling with talented people who are experts in what they do.
BD: What do you hope that audiences will take away from these performances?
RL: I hope that they will be able to sit back and enjoy our staged version of this classic musical, tapping their foot to Styne’s timeless score sung by this fantastic cast and full orchestra. Since most people only know the movie version, I also hope they relish in the opportunity to see the full-fledged stage version where everything from dance breaks to songs and underscoring is performed without omission.
JB: Well, I hope they will have a new curiosity about the real Fanny Brice, because our version is so different and new from other versions. I also hope that people leave thinking about how hard it still is for a woman to be able to be a breadwinner and a spouse. A lot of people say that the book of the play is dated because of the blame placed on Fanny for her marriage’s failure. I challenge men and women watching the show to really think about how hard it is in 2016 for a woman to show that she is smart and capable while also feeling attractive and desirable. Fanny calls herself dumb a number of times in this show because a part of her feels that it makes her smaller. How many women are guilty of the same today?
BS: I hope the audience is able to see past the Barbra Streisand version and see the heart of this show. It’s definitely a drama and there are some beautifully written moments that shine in the hands of our fantastic cast. This show is seldom done, and it’s a true musical theatre gem.
BD: Are there any additional upcoming projects that you would care to share with our readers?
All: Readers should keep an eye out for our upcoming one-night readings of new musicals and plays that have been submitted to our New Works program. Also, in the new year we will continue with our Piano Parties at Old Oak Cellars where patrons can come sing songs at the piano and have a glass of wine.
BD: Lastly, what would you like to tell readers who want to learn more about and purchase tickets for Funny Girl?
All: Funny Girl will be running through November 20th at The Colony Theatre in Burbank, and you can purchase tickets online at conundrumtheatreco.com or over the phone at OvationTix 1-866-811-4111. Tickets are also available to purchase at the door an hour before the performance.