Escape with LTO’s Funny Girl
If days are feeling dark, The Little Theater of Owatonna (LTO) is hoping to brighten them with its musical production, Funny Girl by Isobel Lennart.
The show, under the artistic direction of Linda Karnauskas, opens this weekend. The musical is a semi-biographical telling of the life of Fanny Brice, an actor and comedian, who’s in love with Nick Arnstein, a gambler who’s in prison for embezzlement at the beginning of the show. Told as a long flashback, Brice reflects on how the two met and wonders if they can still have a future together.
The musical is famous for numbers like “Don’t Rain on My Parade” and “People.” Originally performed on Broadway with Barbra Streisand as Brice to much success, the musical was also turned into a movie with Streisand reprising her role and winning an Oscar for her performance.
At technical rehearsal on Sunday, the cast was on point, as the crew stitched together the final elements of the show. There was an air of certainty and focus in the theater, as Karnauskas sat several rows back in the audience watching carefully and whispering minor corrections over her radio headset.
This is Karnauskas’s third directorial outing and first musical one with LTO having previously done 39 Steps and Pack of Lies. The smooth tech run can be attributed to Karnauskas’s 15 years at LTO spent largely backstage. She’s been hoping to do Funny Girl for a while. “I saw the film and fell in love with it,” she said.
“It’s so about a gal who wasn’t the best of everything as far as looks, but she knew she’d make it,” she continued, “It speaks about believing in the possibilities.”
Karnauskas definitely believes in the possibilities of her cast and crew. She’s thrilled to be assisted by musical director Larry Ostermeier, and over the moon about her leads. “You don’t see this show done a lot,” Karnauskas said, “I knew our community had the talent. I was just hoping they auditioned. They did, and they blew me away.”
It’s been smooth sailing for the production since day one. As superstitious as any true thespian, Karnauskas takes their luck as a sign. “Where I’ve needed things, they’ve just come,” she said, “For whatever reason, we’re suppose to be doing Funny Girl.”
Emma Hellevik plays the titular Funny Girl alongside Kenneth Griswold as her love interest Nick Arnstein. Catching up with Hellevik in the women’s dressing room, she was still giving off sparks of Fanny Brice energy, even during her break.
“It’s fun to bring her live to the stage,” Hellevik said as she rummaged through the clothes rack for her next costume, “It’s a new role for me. I’m usually cast in more serious roles.”
On stage since she was six, Hellevik is far from daunted by the stage-lights. “I think I hit play 20 before I was done with high school,” she said pulling out a blouse for her next scene.
She did acknowledge that Fanny Brice is a bit more to handle than most roles. “The roles I’ve played before have never, ever required this much stamina,” she said fiddling with the buttons of her top “and this many costume changes, frankly.”
Hellevik hadn’t seen the movie prior to auditioning and has refrained from since, hoping to bring her own interpretation to the character. “Her character is so non-typical, distinct to her.” she said, “You always have the funny sidekick role, but this chick is beyond that.”
“She’s a ball of energy throughout the whole show,” Hellevik continued, “Keeping up with that has required a lot of caffeine.”
When asked why people had to come see this show, she looked up from her costume as a dresser helped her with the last of the buttons. “It’s hilarious,” she pronounced, “It will be two and a half hours taking you away from your struggles.”
Opening night is June 16 at 7:30 p.m. Remaining evening performances will be at 7:30 p.m. on June 17, 22, 23 and 24. Matinees will be at 2 p.m. matinees on June 18 and 25.
Tickets are available online at http://littletheatreofowatonna.org and cost $16 for adults and $14 for students.