Sunday, May 27, 2001

Leslie Kritzer

'Funny Girl' could be big break for CCM grad

By Jackie Demaline
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Leslie Kritzer
(Jerry Dalia photo)
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        The reviews were ecstatic: Variety called Leslie Kritzer “an enchanting new talent” and added that she “triumphs in the daunting task of acting and singing a role so firmly associated with one performer: Barbra Streisand.”

        The New York Daily News marveled at a “voice (that) is rich and big.”

        The New York Times raved “Ms. Kritzer is funny and elegant, sings a ballad meltingly, hits every high note accurately and holds it until you drop. (She) is setting a table of joy.”

        Ms. Kritzer isn't playing on the Great White Way — yet.

        She just wrapped a run (last Sunday) as Fanny Brice in Funny Girl at the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, N.J. (about 40 minutes from Broadway by commuter train from Penn Station).

        Ms. Kritzer, 23, may be an unknown, but her co-stars already have marquee value. Broadway's Jekyll & Hyde heartthrob Robert Cuccioli plays Nicky Arnstein and longtime American Movie Classics host Bob Dorian is Flo Ziegfeld.

        But, as the Times review pointed out, “When Paper Mill Playhouse is at its best, it is as good as Broadway and it looks better.” The New York and New Jersey critics agree Funny Girl is one of those golden shows.

        And it hasn't seen a Broadway revival in 37 years, thanks to the long shadow of its original star.

Saving her voice

               “From your mouth to God's ears,” Ms. Kritzer whispered between shows one Sunday afternoon in late April. She had a khaki hat squished down on her head, the better to go incognito as she took in some fresh air on the theater's rear terrace. The half-hearted disguise was no use; her elaborate eye make-up gave her away.

        The tiny '99 grad from the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music was whispering. She was saving her voice for the next round of 13 big songs (including blockbusters like “I'm the Greatest Star,” “Don't Rain on My Parade” and “People”). Her delivery of them has critics comparing her not to Ms. Streisand but to Judy Garland.

        Not bad for a girl who was doing temp work on Wall Street just a few months ago.

        The role that just might establish her career came straight from the CCM Senior Showcase two years ago.

        Each spring, graduating seniors perform for agents and casting directors. Ms. Kritzer's audience, like classmate Sara Gettelfinger's, included Paper Mill associate artistic director Patrick Parker, who was looking for a Fanny Brice.

        They talked, but nothing happened that season or the next. Ms. Kritzer did what Broadway hopefuls are supposed to do. She struggled, working and auditioning.

        “I slept on friends' couches. I moved six time in one year.” Now she's living in Hoboken, not far from Ms. Brice's native Newark or even from her own home town of Livingston, N.J. (“The mayor came to see me!”)

        She shares an apartment with CCM classmate Kristy Cates. (Interestingly, Ms. Kritzer decided to apply to CCM when she read that one of her favorite performers, Faith Prince, is a grad.)

        She temped and temped some more.

Getting buzz

               Her first break came last year when she was cast in an Equity workshop of Godspell. Another classmate, Shoshana Bean, was in the show with her. “We weren't getting paid,” Ms. Kritzer says, laughing. “I kept my day job and performed at night. The hope was that it would move off-Broadway.”

        The highly regarded revival did, moving to bigger and bigger houses. There's even a cast recording. Still, Ms. Kritzer was in no position to give up her day job.

        When she read that Paper Mill was moving forward with its plans for Funny Girl, she called Mr. Parker. Several intense auditions and 300 competitors later, she opened the show.

        There is big buzz among New York theater groupies. “I can't believe it!” Ms. Kritzer giggled earlier this month by phone. “I was checking Talkin' last night, and people were talking about me!”

"Doors are opening'

               There is also buzz among New York theater professionals. In mid-May,the New York Times reported that the Minskoff Theatre, whose short-term tenantwas The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, has two potential autumn tenants in a revival of Hair and — Funny Girl, with lots of nice words for Ms. Kritzer.

        “Doors are opening,” Ms. Kritzer says carefully. She's just booked a national commercial (watch for her and Nutra Bar to hit the air in June or July).

        She's just auditioned for Goodspeed Opera's A Little Night Music (in nearby East Haddam, Conn.)but it's clear she doesn't want to travel too far from New York. She's bowed out of a mid-summer gig at Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera.

        Near-term plans include keeping her fingers crossed.


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