The 1960s were a time of genre-defining musicals on Broadway. America’s cultural decade saw the likes of “Bye Bye Birdie” “Fiddler on the Roof” and “Hello, Dolly!” takes the stages of New York City. It also saw a living legend and gay icon — Barbra Streisand — star as Fanny Brice in the classic musical “Funny Girl.”
“Funny Girl” is the semi-biographical story of Brice, a comedian, singer and actress who made it famous on radio and Broadway, and later in film. The musical recounts her rise to fame and her relationship with husband Nick Arnstein through flashbacks as she awaits Nick’s release from prison.
The original 1964 Broadway production, with a musical score by Jule Styne, lyrics by Bob Merrill and book by Isobel Lennart, was nominated for eight Tony Awards (not winning any and losing five of them to “Helly, Dolly!”) and went on to become a hit Hollywood film in 1968, getting eight Academy Award nominations (and winning one, for Streisand, for Best Actress for which she tied with Katharine Hepburn for her turn in “The Lion in Winter”).
A revival production of “Funny Girl” hit the Broadway stage in 2022 with a revised book by Harvey Fierstein and starring Beanie Feldstein and Ramin Karimloo as Fanny and Nick. Lea Michele stepped in to play Fanny after Feldstein left the show only a few months in.
The revival closed in September 2023 just as the U.S. national tour hit the road to bring the inspiring story of “Funny Girl” to audiences across the country. For the national tour, Fanny is played by Katerina McCrimmon and Nick is played by openly gay actor Stephen Mark Lukas, who also understudied Karimloo in the role while on Broadway.
“Funny Girl,” which opened in Providence, Rhode Island Sept. 9, heads to Florida at the end of this month and includes stops at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa Nov. 28-Dec. 3 and the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts in Orlando Dec. 5-10.
Lukas was gracious enough to speak with Watermark by phone after opening the show in Baltimore and ahead of the show’s Central Florida and Tampa Bay stops.
WATERMARK: “Funny Girl” just recently hit the road for its national tour. How has it been going so far?
Stephen Mark Lukas: We’ve been on the road for about a month. We opened in Providence, Rhode Island, back in the beginning of September and it’s been great. We’re having a really, really fun time. The opening night audience here in Baltimore was fantastic, but we are excited to get to warmer weather in a few weeks in Florida.
You play Nick Arnstein in the Broadway Tour of “Funny Girl,” a role you understudied for the Broadway revival. What did you learn about the character during that time and has that played into how you created your performance on the tour.
When you’re an understudy on Broadway you’re always flying by the seat of your pants and it’s equal parts thrilling and nerve wracking, so coming on the road and getting a chance to rehearse it with a new company and to make the role my own — on Broadway I was understudying the brilliant Ramin Karimloo, who was wonderful in the role and I was really grateful to be able to watch him and learn from him — but coming on the tour and building the character from a place that is true to myself, and also getting to do it with a new cast, is really exciting.
For those who don’t know the story, what is “Funny Girl”?
“Funny Girl” is the story of Fanny Brice, who was a comedian in the early 20th century. She was one of the first big Jewish stars of the Ziegfeld Follies. She went on to do Broadway and go on the road with Vaudeville, and ultimately went on to do films in the ‘30s and ‘40s. She was a huge star and our show tracks her humble beginning and her meteoric rise to stardom and her relationship with Nick Arnstein, who was the love of her life. It is based on a true story and is an inspiring story of a woman who ignores all the naysayers and really makes a name for herself in a way that is true to herself.
“Funny Girl” is one of those big, classic Broadway shows with lots of singing and dancing — both of which you do in this show. Did you have a singing and/or dancing background coming into this show?
I’ve always been a singer and an actor, first and foremost, and a dancer not so much [laughs]. I do a little dancing in this role, which is fun, but the show is a big, old-fashioned Broadway spectacle. It has wonderful tapdancing by our hardworking ensemble. It has big, powerhouse ballads that everyone knows — “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” “People,” “The Music That Makes Me Dance” — and it is also a very grown-up story of a woman and her marriage and her career; I think the show really has something for everyone. I’ve always said about this show that it really has everything that makes people fall in love with Broadway. Tap dancing and big musical numbers but also some intimate storytelling, so I think it is a very satisfying evening of theater.
Your Fanny Brice is Katerina McCrimmon. What’s it like to play opposite Katerina and see her belt out those classic songs?
She is amazing, she really is a vocal powerhouse. Her voice is next level. I was fortunate enough to play the role on Broadway for about three weeks opposite Lea Michele and Katerina is just as good, she really is just a phenomenal talent. Her big moments that everyone is waiting for certainly do not disappoint.
Did you grow up in New York?
I grew up in Maine actually. I moved to New York when I was 18 to go to college and I never left.
Was theater and music a big part of your upbringing?
It was. My parents used to bring us to New York every November and we would go and see four or five shows in the span of about three days. My dad would read reviews and look up what shows were playing in the paper and plan six months ahead of time what shows we were going to go see and we would buy the cast albums and we would listen to them in the car getting ready for the trip. We did it every year and that’s really how I fell in love with Broadway and with musical theater.
You played in my all-time favorite musical, “Book of Mormon,” as Elder Price. That is a bit of an edgy musical as far as musicals go. What was that experience like?
“Book of Mormon,” it was some years ago that I was in it, and I was in it right at the beginning as it became this huge phenomenon that it ultimately became. Much like being in “Funny Girl” on Broadway, it was really the main event on Broadway, which made the entire experience really exciting. People would buy their tickets months ahead of time and the audience reactions showed that people had been really waiting for this show and they were excited to see it, and they kind of didn’t know what to expect. Plus I mean it is one of the funniest shows ever written and it was really a treat to get to do that show.
I did a little bit of Instagram stalking to prepare for our interview and did I see you and your husband celebrated your nineth anniversary a couple months ago?
Actually my fiancé, not married yet. We just got engaged last Christmas and have been together for nine years.
When’s the big day?
The big day is forthcoming. Probably when I get off the road so we’ll see, but we aren’t in any rush. We have been together for a long time but we are excited to finally make that official.
How has being an out performer changed from now to when you first got involved with Broadway?
When I came up in the business, after graduating college and was looking for agent, there really was this unspoken rule of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” People might know that you were out and that you are gay, but you didn’t make too much of it. In fact, my first agent said to me “You want to be out and proud but not so proud that you don’t get the job.” That really stuck with me and that kind of thing really just lives rent-free in your head for a long time. Thank goodness that the business is changing, and it has changed a lot. That was probably about 15 years ago and in the intervening years it has really changed a lot in terms of being more accepting and not feeling like you have to put on an act just to get a job. You can just let your work speak for itself rather than having to craft this alternate public persona of yourself. So I think it is changing slowly but I think it has already changed a lot, and I’m certainly grateful for that.
We love that the tour is coming to Florida, but our state hasn’t been very LGBTQ+ friendly, politically speaking, for several years. Was there any hesitation about bringing the tour to Florida given its current political climate?
I think the political climate in Florida for LGBTQ folks has been unfortunate and it has been hard to watch it from afar but what I think we as performers intend to do is bring joy to people and to entertain them and we are very excited to do that everywhere in the country. In addition, I think this show really is about a woman — Fancy Brice — reclaiming her identity and deciding that she is going to be herself no matter what. I think that resonates especially with LGBTQ people, which is why this story has long been a staple with LGBTQ musical theater fans back since Barbra Streisand. Because it really is about embracing your authenticity and being unapologetic in who you are, so in a lot of ways I think this is the perfect story for the political climate right now and for all time.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten?
There is a Steve Martin quote that goes “Be so good that they can’t ignore you.” I think it really does come down to your work and it really does come down to your dedication to your craft. There’s a lot of other things that can sort of get in the way and that people will focus on, but I think that at the end of the day if you are able to be authentic and then hone your craft on top of that, if there is a recipe for success I think that is it.
Looking at some of your photos on Instagram, you have a very Clark Kent/Superman look to you. Would you be interested in starring in a Superman musical if it ever came to Broadway?
I am ready, willing and able to play Superman on Broadway if called upon. There are lots of roles out there that I would love to do. I’m getting a little bit older now and looking at more leading man roles, like Nick Arnstein, so there are a number of roles I would love to do and Superman is certainly one of them [laughs].
“Funny Girl,” starring Katerina McCrimmon and Stephen Mark Lukas, comes to the Straz Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa Nov. 28-Dec. 3 and the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts in Orlando Dec. 5-10. Tickets start at $50 for the Tampa shows and are available at StrazCenter.org and tickets start at $45 for the Orlando shows and are available at DrPhillipsCenter.org.