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Funny Girl Cover ARt


Although FUNNY GIRL is on Broadway no more, the revival cast album lives on to prove an important point.

When musical theater enthusiasts discuss the 1964 musical, far more often than not they say that it’s Jule Styne’s best score after GYPSY.

What they seldom mention are Bob Merrill’s lyrics.

Semi-correction: What they almost always mention as an example of how Merrill’s lyrics aren’t good is this couplet that Fanny Brice must endure:

“Kid, my heart ain’t made of marble,

But your rhythm’s really har’ble.”

Martin Charnin, the Tony-winning lyricist for ANNIE (who also did excellent work for TWO BY TWO), said it best: “Your show can’t afford to have one weak lyric, because critics will use it as an example – in parentheses – that all your lyrics aren’t good.”

More than one critic for this revival called Merrill’s entire set of lyrics “so-so.” I don’t beg to differ; I insist on differing.

In the opening song, Fanny’s neighbor believes:

“If a girl isn’t pretty

Like a Miss Atlantic City,

All she gets from life is pity

And a pat.”

Note the interior rhymes: pretty, City, pity. Lehman Engel, the founder of the BMI Workshop, once wrote a book on lyricists called Their Words Are Music. Merrill’s work here qualifies.

What can Fanny do? FUNNY GIRL starts in a pre-World War I era when women were mostly judged for their beauty. Fanny’s neighbor further criticizes:

“When a girl’s incidentals

Are no bigger than two lentils …”

It wasn’t a time when people would say “breasts.” Merrill had to find a particularly funny euphemism, and he certainly did.

Another neighbor employs her own euphemism:

“When they see that assortment,

From the gall’ry, they’ll be throwing fruit.”

Although “balcony” was the official name for this section of the theater, just plain folks – which Fanny’s neighbors were – called it “the gallery.” Merrill chose the right, then-contemporary expression.

Will any of these nay-saying neighbors discourage Fanny? No, she still insists that she’s “the greatest star”:

“Some ain’t got it – not a lump –

I’m a great big clump”

We’re surprised at her ungainly word choice. However, Merrill and Fanny aren’t through. After a tiny (and arguably Freudian) pause, Fanny adds:

“of talent.”

And the audience gurgles with pleasure.

Merrill, however, was more than just a jokesmith. He established Fanny’s self-confidence in no uncertain terms:

“I’ll light up like a light

Right up like a light …”

“Lookin’ down, you’ll never see me.

Try the sky, ‘cause that’ll be me.”

Well, at least she gets a job at Keeney’s Music Hall, where she sings about her feelings for a “Cornet Man.”

“I said, ‘Darlin, while the smoke still smolders,

Unpin your woman’s hair and rub her shoulders.’”

Now that’s specific and sexy. However:

“He‘ll leave his wife and kiddies sittin’ with their tongues out

To play for peanuts in a dive and blow his lungs out.”

That’s good characterization, and it’s in keeping with the many male characters in plays (The Front Page) and musicals (Guys and Dolls) who must choose between love and career. However, when all is said and sung:

“He’s the only man can make my coffee percolate.”

Again, Merrill found a colorful euphemism.

Fanny makes it to the Ziegfeld Follies. In “His Love Makes Me Beautiful,” the tribute to these extravaganzas of yore, Merrill had his tenor glorify the American girl:

“You are the beautiful reflection

Of his love’s affection

A walking illustration

Of his adoration …”

At first glance, those words don’t seem like much. Then Fanny comes out looking eight months and three weeks pregnant. Aside from a couple of pronouns, she sings the same words – she must; they’re part of the act – but Merrill showed his initial choice of words wasn’t an arbitrary one. These could now easily adapt to the comic situation:

“I am the beautiful reflection

Of my love’s affection

A walking illustration

Of his adoration …”

And the audience, which laughed heartily at seeing Fanny’s protuberance, now laugh again when they hear what Merrill gave her to say.

Fanny’s backstage visitors include Nick Arnstein, who proclaims, “I Want to Be Seen with You.” That’s catnip to a woman whose neighbors led her to believe that no man would ever want to be seen with her. Not at all, as Nick sings:

“Now natur’ly,

Such proximity

Gives rumors to rise

Well, let them analyze

What our amalgamation implies.”

Nick is suave and sophisticated, and his use of proximity, analyze and amalgamation shows that.

(Not that critics are expected to know this, but Merrill also deserves credit for coming up with this lyric in a hurry; “I Want to Be Seen with You” wasn’t in FUNNY GIRL when the show began its pre-Broadway tryout in Boston on January 11, 1964.)

Fanny takes Nick to “Henry Street.” Here a lesser lyricist would have had neighbors simply make a big deal of Fanny. Merrill was wise to have them instead put her success in stronger terms by establishing that she’s done what no one else in the neighborhood has been able to achieve:

“We’re proud to tell you that CPAs

We got in dozens.

And lawyers?

Take your choice! …

“But Henry Street has something it ain’t had so far:

The greatest, most glamorous, genuine, glorified Ziegfeld star!

Merrill continued the specifics when Fanny commented on her neighbors:

“With them, just let one kid fall down

And seven mothers faint”

How true in those days, when women would sit on city stoops and watch their children play in the street.

Don’t recognize this lyric? It’s in the seldom-heard verse of “People,” the show’s Big Hit Song. Merrill then showed he had a fine understanding of the human condition:

“We’re children

Needing other children

And yet, letting our grown-up pride

Hide all the need inside

Acting more like children

Than children.”

Haven’t we all been guilty of that?

Fanny accepts Nick’s invitation to a fancy restaurant. When he sings

“You Are Woman,” Fanny experiences her own mental tug-of-war:

“Do good girls do just what mama says

When mama’s not around?”

“Well, a least he thinks I’m special:

He ordered a la carte.”

And what date hasn’t been dazzled when the host orders the most expensive items on the menu?

“Just suppose he wants his dinner back?”

Is this expression still used? It was another euphemism of the day in how a woman would have to “pay for her meal” by dispensing sexual favors. Fanny decides:

“What a beast to ruin such a pearl”

But only a second later, she waffles and rationalizes:

“Would a convent take a Jewish girl?”

This may be the line that gets the audience to laugh the most.

“Don’t Rain on My Parade,” has become a genuine catchphrase – not just from those who know Broadway, but also from regular civilians.

In “Sadie, Sadie” – another one that Merrill had to write on the road to Broadway – Fanny gets her man, although:

“To tell the truth, it hurt my pride:

The groom was prettier than the bride.”

That’s in the past. Time to get domesticated. She’s:

“The owner of an icebox

With a ten-year guarantee”

Again, a smart and accurate period reference: icebox was a forerunner of a refrigerator.

Then Merrill found a sly way to fill us in on their romantic history dating:

“The honeymoon was such delight

That we got married that same night.”

Harvey Fierstein, hired to rework Isobel Lennart’s original book, decided to put “Who Taught Her Everything” in Act Two (probably because Act One is very long). Both Rose, Fanny’s mother, and Eddie Ryan, her best friend, fancifully relate what they did for her. First, he states:

“She sings like a bird –

Yes, indeed –

But who used to stand there

And feed her the seed?”

Rose’s turn:

“The mischievous smile;

The devil-may-care;

You don’t pull such mannerisms

Out of the air.”

Nice, colloquial and stylish.

As for Nick’s “A Temporary Arrangement,” Merrill shows us his worldview when he calls it “the only permanent thing.”

Time for another Ziegfeld number, in which Fanny portrays “Private Schwartz from Rockaway.”

“I’m through and through


I talk this way because I’m British – ”

No, Merrill didn’t give us the expected “Jewish,” which indeed we’d assume a Private Schwartz from Rockaway would be.

Take it from one who saw this FUNNY GIRL three times: on each occasion, audiences laughed heartily and affectionately at this lyric and all the amusing ones cited above – even marble / har’ble.

Nick gets himself in legal trouble, and Fanny asks a question all of us should ask ourselves about our mates or spouses:

“Who are you now?

Are you someone better for my love?”

Then comes the show’s “My Man” moment, only with a better song: “The Music That Makes Me Dance.” The standout among the tender lyrics is:

“He’ll sleep and he’ll rise

In the light of two eyes

That adore him.”

That’s sheer poetry of the highest order.

And after Fanny realizes that she’s not going to get that expected reconciliation with Nick, well, there’s always show business:

“Let’s give ‘em hell, Brice;

We’ll cry a little later;

Well, Brice –

That’s life in the the-a-ter.”

And getting criticized is “life in the the-a-ter, too.” Still, there’s plenty of evidence that Bob Merrill was so, so good a lyricist.

Peter Filichia can be heard most weeks of the year on His new book – BRAINTEASERS FOR BROADWAY GENIUSES – is now available on Amazon and at The Drama Book Shop.