Stephen Mark Lukas: the 'Funny Girl' guy - classic musical arrives at the Orpheum

  • by Jim Gladstone
  • Tuesday April 23, 2024
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Stephen Mark Lukas in 'Funny Girl'<br>(photo: Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade)
Stephen Mark Lukas in 'Funny Girl'
(photo: Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade)

To hear some tell it, there is and always will be one and only one "Funny Girl."

That, they'd insist, would be Barbra Streisand, who originated the titular, loosely biographical role of comic actress Fanny Brice in both the original 1964 stage production and the Academy Award winning film adaptation of the Jule Styne (score)/Bob Merril (lyrics) musical. Revived for the first time on Broadway in 2022, the show plays a national tour engagement beginning April 30 at the Orpheum Theatre.

But Stephen Mark Lukas — who co-stars as Brice's suave-to-a-fault gambler husband, Nicky Arnstein on the current tour, having understudied Ramin Karimloo in the role on Broadway — has the rare distinction of having played opposite half a dozen Funny Girls and appreciates the differences they've brought to the part.

"The show is structured around Fanny," said Lukas in a recent interview with the Bay Area Reporter. "And a central role like that needs to be built on the strengths and the vulnerabilities of the actress who is playing her.

"It wouldn't work to do an impression of Barbra Streisand or even a generalized idea of her style. Each of the six women I've had a chance to do it with are incredible actresses as well as great singers, and they all bring a huge part of themselves to the role.

"It's been fun having the chance to play the same part with different actors as Fanny," reflected Lukas. "I get to have some fun with the role a little, change it up a bit to bring out different sides of myself to work with each of their styles."

Katerina McCrimmon and Stephen Mark Lukas in 'Funny Girl' (photo: Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade)  

McCrimmon, Michele, and more
Of Katerina McCrimmon, who plays Fanny on tour, Lukas said, "There's a vivaciousness to her take on the role. Her Fanny has a genuine lust for life. She's focused on building her career, but there's a sense of joy to everything she does. It's very clear that Fanny is enjoying herself. And I know Katerina is too."

Toward the end of the show's Broadway run, leading man Karimloo left for a month in order to fulfill a long-standing engagement as the Phantom of the Opera in Italy, giving Lukas the chance to play a weeks-long stretch of performances opposite Lea Michele, who drew rave reviews for her take on Fanny.

While McCrimmon's interpretation of the part is vivacious, Lukas described Michele's as "almost violent," still sounding a bit stunned as he explained, "It was as if Fanny would just do anything she needed to succeed at all costs. There was a ferocity to it that worked beautifully for her.

"I think that Katerina captures that sense of ambition, but there's also an uplift to her performance that's unique."

Critics have almost unanimously agreed, praising 25-year-old McCrimmon, who's making her national tour debut following a single Broadway stint in "The Rose Tattoo" in 2019.

"She's phenomenal," said Lukas, "She's such a generous partner on stage, she's incredibly funny, and her voice is just out of this world.

In addition to McCrimmon and Michele, Lukas has done the fandango with Julie Benko, Hannah Shankman, Leah Platt, and Ephie Aardema, all of who have understudied Fanny on Broadway or the tour. Benko also famously took over for original Broadway leading lady Beanie Feldstein, captivating audiences and setting her own star on the rise in the interim period before Michele stepped into the role.

Stephen Mark Lukas in 'Funny Girl' (photo: Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade)  

Leading man material
Lukas, who has played Elder Price in "The Book of Mormon" both on Broadway and on tour, is perhaps best known in the industry for playing leading male roles in evergreen musicals, parts he consistently books at major regional theaters nationally.

Sky Masterson in "Guys and Dolls," Joe Hardy in "Damn Yankees," Lancelot in "Camelot," and Curly in "Oklahoma" are among the classic hunks he's brought to hummable life.

Engaged to marry longtime partner and former Broadway dancer Brian Letendre, Lukas says he loves playing these somewhat old-fashioned straight romantic characters.

"Growing up in Kennebunk, Maine, my parents always played musical cast albums and took us to see the big shows a few times a year in New York."

He does mention that "This 'Funny Girl' has been updated a bit. Harvey Fierstein worked on the book to round out the secondary characters and punch things up."

"When I first started auditioning for Broadway, there were lots of pop and rock-sounding shows. But that's just not the right music for my voice. I really love the old Broadway standards."

Melissa Manchester and Katerina McCrimmon in 'Funny Girl' (photo: Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade)  

Melissa Manchester plays Mama
Making a refreshing return to musical theater as Fanny Brice's mother is recording star Melissa Manchester, 73.

After making a mark in Bette Midler's backup trio, the Harlettes, Manchester had a series of solo pop hits, including "Don't Cry Out Loud," "You Should Hear How She Talks About You," and "Midnight Blue," which were omnipresent on adult contemporary radio in the late 1970s.

No stranger to musical theater, Manchester saw Streisand on Broadway in "Funny Girl" as a child. In 1979, she stepped into a part created on Broadway by Bernadette Peters, headlining the national tour of Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Song and Dance."

On Monday, May 20, Manchester will headline a one-night fundraising concert for the Richmond/Ermet Aid Foundation and Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. "The Diva's Toast," hosted by queer quipster Bruce Vilanch at Marine's Memorial Theater, will also feature several "Funny Girl" cast members.

'Funny Girl,' April 30-May 26. $55-$239. Orpheum Theatre, 1192 Market St. (888)-746-1799

'The Diva's Toast' with Melissa Manchester, May 20. $40-$100. Marines' Memorial Theater, 609 Sutter St. (415) 264-0926.

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