'I learned to love musical theater in the movie house, going to see musicals with my mother and sister," says Napa-based director Barry Martin, enthusiastically citing such inspirational classics as The Sound of Music, Gypsy and Mary Poppins.
"A little later," he says, "it was Funny Girl, where I was introduced to this amazing woman, Fanny Brice. She was unknown to me but was a peer of early performers I already admired—Al Jolson, George Cohan, W. C. Fields, the Marx Brothers."
A history buff as well as a theater aficionado, Martin—who has just directed Funny Girl for the second time in two years (last time at the Napa Opera House and now for 6th Street Playhouse)—has always been fascinated by the pre–"talking pictures" period, a time when the stage was the dominant form of popular entertainment. It's this period when the real-life comedian Fanny Brice became famous, though the musical that told her story, Funny Girl, would not come around until several years after her death.
A huge hit when the show was remounted in Napa last year, Funny Girl's resurrection at 6th Street, with Taylor Bartolucci repeating her performance as Fanny, is a personal thrill to Martin.
"Any chance a person gets to direct Taylor is a gift," he says. "I am very grateful that 6th Street wanted to remount Funny Girl and open the season with it. It's rare to get a second bite of such a tasty apple."
Of the 19 original Napa cast members, six primary actors are returning, including James Sasser as Fanny's conflicted husband Nicky Arnstein and Anthony Martinez as her long-suffering bestie Eddie Ryan. With a very different setting at 6th Street, Martin has been able to introduce some ambitious new set elements into the show, along with a number of new cast members.
"I love that some of the younger members have never heard of Fanny Brice," says Martin. "Well, they know who she is now."
As for the show itself, Martin loves it more now than ever.
"This is that rare musical with both a great score and a great book," he says. "It is very funny but with a solid dramatic line. And Taylor . . . well, she was tremendous in the role last time, and she's even better this time around. She knows Fanny Brice in depth, she loves the character and the story, and she loves playing the role. I expect a tour de force, nothing less."
'Funny Girl' runs Thursday–Sunday through Sept. 14 at 6th Street Playhouse. 52 W. Sixth St., Santa Rosa. Thursday–Saturday at 8pm; 2pm matinees, Saturday–Sunday. $15–$35. 707.523.4185.