When Katerina McCrimmon learned she’d been cast as the lead in the touring production of “Funny Girl” – her first major role – her mother sobbed.
Tears of pride? Most likely, McCrimmon says, but a more telling clue was when her mom shared memories of singing the Melissa Manchester hit “Don’t Cry Out Loud” into a hairbrush in front of her childhood bedroom mirror.
McCrimmon plays feisty vaudeville star Fanny Brice, with the Grammy Award-winning Manchester as her mother in “Funny Girl,” which opens its national tour at the Providence Performing Arts Center on Sept. 9.
“It’s thrilling to work with someone I admire so much,” McCrimmon says.
The tour comes after Broadway’s successful reboot of the biography of Brice, child of early 20th-century immigrants who defied the odds and followed her dreams onto the stage. Brice’s confidence – and her mother’s relentless nudging – plays out against a lush score, featuring familiar songs like “People” and “Don’t Rain on My Parade.”
The parallels between the Brices and the tour leads are evident when listening to the women’s banter in a telephone interview.
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“Katerina is so special. I just know America is going to fall in love with her like the others and I have,” Manchester says. “This is a landmark show that has not toured in 60 years. It’s such a rich experience.”
McCrimmon says she approaches the Providence kickoff with “a bunch of different emotions.”
“I’m excited, nervous, eager,” she says, adding that working with Manchester helped her grow into the lead. “I know that, over time, I’ll pull myself up by my bootstraps and you won’t be able to hold me back.”
Calling herself the tour’s “village elder,” Manchester adds that she happily shares wisdom collected over her 50 years in show business, often from moments when she was the only woman in the room.
“It was all men back then,” she recalls. “It’s a different world now, but I learned so much. It was a hard walk, but I’m so grateful to find grace in the midst of it all.”
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Having seen multiple renditions of “Funny Girl” – Barbra Streisand’s Fanny in the 1960s, Lea Michelle in the 2022 Broadway revival and now McCrimmon – Manchester says the Cinderella story and the way each actress conquers stereotypes and naysayers is inspiring.
“Fanny was a product of her time,” she explains. “She would use Yiddish-isms to get people laughing with her instead of at her. And, her mother was a strong woman who raised three kids alone. She knew Fanny had the light, and she wanted her to walk in her light.
“She sounds like all the women I grew up with in the Bronx!”
This legacy proved somewhat daunting to McCrimmon, who worked tirelessly with a dialect coach and studied the Jewish culture and nuances of 1920s New York to “get it right.”
“I have to allow myself to be myself, but I also have to get it right,” she says with a laugh. “I feel like Fanny in many ways. She was one in a million, with drive and passion. She always knew she had it and just had to trust in herself.”
Manchester, who says her role in “Funny Girl” marks the first time she was hired as an actress, says the music and cadence of the show “triggers my engines.”
“It’s a beautiful musical – so funny and heart-soaring,” she says.
If you go …
What: “Funny Girl”
Where: Providence Performing Arts Center, 220 Weybosset St., Providence
When: Sept. 9-16
Tickets: $45 and up
Info: ppacri.org, (401) 421-2787