Jule Styne's proud, blaring Broadway sound is the root strength of "Funny Girl," producer Ray Stark's salute to his mother-in-law, Fanny Brice. With four crackerjack leads and its taped, 32-piece band, Burn Brae Dinner Theater again proves it knows how to handle vintage musicals.
That his orchestrations are his own makes the Styne sound instantly identifable. A childhood piano soloist with the Chicago and Detroit Symphonies, Styne was 13 when he won a scholarship to the Chicago College of Music, where he studied harmony, composition and theory.
The result of this rarely matched training is that Styne's career leaves more talked-about composers in the dust. When he hit Broadway in '44, he already had his own California hit parade. From "High Button Shoes" and "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes," Styne has gone into a 30-year path of hits, including "Gypsy," which "Funny Girl" resembles in several details.
The "Funny Girl" score - which with "People" did for Barbra Streisand what "Diamonds" did for Carol Channing - also includes: "I'm the Greatest Star," "Don't Rain on My Parade," "Sadie, Sadie" and "The Music that Makes Me Dance."
Burn Brae's system of taping a full orchestra for live performers works far better than theory suggests. Musical director John Sichina has perfected subtle leads-ins, and the 350-seat theater's sound system is first class.
Stark began his production to clean up the tarnished images of his wife's parents, Fanny Brice and gambler Nicky Arnstein. Originally a screenplay, Isabel Lennert's book creates a touching romance.
Lonnie Lohfeld, a Burn Brae favorite, is a singer with vocal wallop and decided presence, wholly worthy of the juicy Fanny role. As Arnstein, a thankless part, Stan Karas projects the strength Fanny needed at her career's start. That excellent singing-dancer, Rodney Fayman, is Fanny's faithful buddy. Phyllis Goldblatt as Mrs. Brice projects with such controlled, assured timing that when Norman Lear can't get Bea Arthur or Kay Medford, he ought to look up this grand, dry comedienne.