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Walt Whitman High School Theater Students Present ‘Funny Girl’

Walt Whitman High School Drama Department opens its 2006-07 season with a sumptuously staged production of “Funny Girl,” directed by Walt Whitman drama director Christopher Gerken, musical direction by Jeffrey Davidson, instrumental direction by Terry Alvey, choreography by Tammy Roberts with sets by Chris Rogers.

Set amidst the glamorous Ziegfeld Follies, this lavish musical chronicles the life of one of America’s most beloved entertainers, Fanny Brice.

One of the gems of American musical theatre, “Funny Girl” chronicles the early life, professional success and personal tribulations of Fanny Brice, one of the brightest lights of the American musical theatre. An awkward, stage struck girl with a fierce determination to succeed, Brice defied the odds with her unique sense of comedy and became both the stage and screen’s ultimate comedienne. Entering vaudeville in 1910, Brice got her first assignment in a Ziegfeld show shortly thereafter, and remained associated with the master showman for a quarter of a century. In the 1930s Brice made innumerable films, and reached her largest audience through radio and the budding genre of television. During that time she was married and divorced twice: first to gambler Nicky Arnstein — as “Funny Girl” relates — and later to the dynamic producer Billy Rose.

“‘Funny Girl’ is an ambitious undertaking for any professional theater and the talented students of Walt Whitman High School will certainly shine in what is expected to be a blockbuster of theatrical entertainment,” said director Christopher Gerken. “Walt Whitman students take great pride and ownership in their productions, managing every detail themselves. Not only do they perform but our students also design and implement every production value.”

This year the student leadership is in the talented hands of student producer Claire Marberg, student technical directors Jeremy Guterl and Chris Kallas, stage manager Jackie Ordan and student scenic designer Isabel Moris-Look.

“Funny Girl,” a theatrical sensation, contains one showstopper after another, including “People,” “Don’t Rain On My Parade,” and “I’m the Greatest Star.” The New York Times crowed at its opening, “Jule Styne has written one of his best scores ... it’s the authentic aura of show business arising out of Fanny Brice’s luminous career that lights up the show.”

The musical encountered more than a few obstacles on its way to Broadway fame, however. The producer, Ray Stark, had long wanted to present a treatment of the entertainer’s life, but needed to stage a hit that would not antagonize either the still-living Nick Arnstein or Fanny’s daughter — who happened to be Stark’s wife. He commissioned multiple works, in each case buying all future rights to protect the material, but did not find a fit until he received a screenplay from film writer Isobel Lennart. Stark and his associates thought it would make a splendid musical comedy, and the show was born. “Funny Girl” includes music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Bob Merrill and book by Isobel Lennart. It is produced through special arrangement with Tams Whitmark.

WALT WHITMAN WILL CONTINUE its theatrical season with a February 2007 original adaptation of Bram Stoker’s “Dracula,” an April 2007 presentation of its annual student run Talent Show, a May 2007 production of a One Act Play Series and participation in the Walt Whitman High School’s Festival of the Arts as well as the 2007 Shakespeare Festival.