The Harold Green Jewish Theatre Company kicks off its seventh season with a fundraising production of Funny Girl in Concert starring Toronto-based actress and singer Gabi Epstein in the title role.
Directed by HGJTC’s co-artistic director Avery Saltzman, with conductor Mark Camilleri as musical director, the one-night-only event will take place Sept. 30.
Epstein, who will portray the late comedian Fanny Brice (1891-1951), made famous by Barbra Streisand in the movie Funny Girl, will be reunited with actor Shawn Wright, who will take on the role of Brice’s husband, Nicky Arnstein. The two performed in HGJTC’s show To Life, for which Epstein was nominated for a Dora Award. Also performing at the Funny Girl fundraiser are Eddie Glen, Victor Young, Theresa Tova and Paula Wilson, to name a few.
“In this concert version, we are reading the whole script and singing the whole score, but instead of doing it with costumes and sets, there are going to be five microphones and music stands,” Epstein explained. “We will be in character the whole time, but singing the songs and reading the lines just by standing at the microphones.
“These musical concerts aren’t done for every single show, but generally they’re done for the shows that are quite expensive to set up. Also, the show has to have enough meat in the music and the book to stand up to just being read without all the glitz and glam. A 25-piece orchestra will be our set.”
Epstein said Brice was most famous for being the first to introduce people to Yiddish comedy and bring it to the vaudeville world, adding that she grew to become one of the most famous vaudevillians of her day. Ironically, Epstein’s first professional acting job was in the one-woman show Fanny Brice for Smile Theatre, written by Lezlie Wade. So she’s well versed on the life of this funny lady both on and off the stage.
“The story is really beautiful. In the play, they really highlight her real life, which wasn’t nearly as glamorous as her life on the stage,” Epstein said. “She went through some really trying times with her husband and what was going on in the world at that time. It has a tragic clown element to it. One of my favourite things about the show is that she is a consummate performer, so she will put away everything that is going on in her life and be that consummate performer on the stage, but nothing is really ever as it seems.
“This will be a fun night for the Jewish theatre, and they are like a second family to me. It will be really exciting, and I hope they get tons of people out and that they make a ton of money because I would love to continue working for them. I think they are great for this city.”
Epstein has graced a number of stages since her first opportunity to portray Fanny Brice. Her work has taken her to New York, Orlando, Montreal, Ottawa and the Caribbean. She has also made her mark in the cabaret world, both in Canada and in the United States, including in New York City’s Algonquin Hotel and at the cabaret hotspot Don’t Tell Mama, for which the Times Square Chronicles named her the Top Cabaret Act of 2012.
Epstein will also be performing in HGJTC’s There’s No Business Like Irving Berlin on Nov. 3, alongside Arlene Duncan, Sterling Jarvis, Sheila McCarthy and Camilla Scott, in a show directed once again by Saltzman.
For more information on Gabi Epstein, including her 2010 debut CD Show Off, go to www.gabiepstein.com.
Funny Girl in Concert – Sept. 30, 7:30 p.m. at the George Weston Concert hall at the Toronto Centre for the Arts. For tickets, call 1-855-985-2787 or visit www.hgjewishtheatre.com.