‘Funny’ business tickles Broadway

Over $500,000 raised for the Actors' Fund

NEW YORK –Legit benefits and opening-nights have a way of getting a very, very late start.

Not so with Monday night’s benefit performance of “Funny Girl” for the Actors’ Fund of America at the Amsterdam Theater.

Sixteen leading ladies, starting with Whoopi Goldberg and ending with Carolee Carmello, rotated in the Fanny Brice role. And shockingly, the curtain went up shortly after the announced start time of 7:30 p.m.

The evening’s second Fanny happened to be Sutton Foster, who had an 8 p.m. curtain to make two blocks up Broadway at “Thoroughly Modern Millie.” To save time, she even wore her long-hair pre-flapper wig from “TMM.” As Brice No. 2, the Tony winner landed “I’m the Greatest Star,” ending the show’s first big number with her signature head-flung-back, arms-spread-wide pose that invariably brings down the house farther uptown.

It was also nice to “Urinetown’s” Spencer Kayden, last season’s other big discovery, making much of her comic brawl with the Flo Ziegfeld of Len Cariou.

As the night’s only Nick Arnstein, Peter Gallagher romanced in quick succession the Fannys of Ricki Lake, Idina Menzel, Kristin Chenoweth, LaChanze, Julia Murney, Ana Gasteyer, Bebe Neuwirth, Judy Kuhn and Andrea Martin.

As always at such one-time-only affairs, highlights included a couple of unscripted moments. Top of the list would have to be Gallagher smearing his face with Lillias White’s crimson lipstick at the end of act one, and then kicking off act two with a post-“Sadie, Sadie,” precoital moment with Jane Krakowski.

Lest the very first Funny Girl be forgot, Liz Smith opened the evening with reminiscences of the original. The gossip columnist remembered writing a letter to the young Barbra Streisand, in which she expressed the prevailing sentiment that “you are the greatest star” to one who soon became “the biggest pain the ass.”

The event raised plus $500,000 for the Actors’ Fund.