Actor tap dances his way into ‘Funny Girl’ cast

By Darlene Donloe

Contributing Writer

LOS ANGELES — The moment Izaiah Montaque Harris takes the stage, it’s obvious why he was chosen to play the reimagined iconic role of Eddie Ryan in the national tour of the classic musical revival of “Funny Girl,” currently playing at the Ahmanson Theatre through April 28.

Armed with an infectious smile and a huge amount of magnetic stage presence, Harris, only the second Black actor to take on the role of Fanny Brice’s friend, Eddie Ryan, lights up the stage with every movement.

“Funny Girl” is a musical comedy loosely based on the life and career of singer and actor Fanny Brice. Other characters in the story, including Nick Arnstein and Florenz Ziegfeld Jr., are also inspired by real-life people. Mostly fiction, the musical takes many artistic liberties in portraying Brice’s life and career.

In the show, Ryan is a dance director of the Ziegfeld Follies and a showman who choreographs all of Brice’s dances at the Keene vaudeville house, where she began her career.

Before getting the part, Harris had never seen “Funny Girl.”

“I hadn’t seen the show, but I knew about the songs,” he said. “I did not watch the show until I got the [part]. I auditioned for the Broadway version in 2022 but Jared Grimes got the part. I didn’t see the show. I hadn’t seen a lot of musicals. 

“When I got the show in April 2023, I went to see it twice. I saw the movie before the rehearsal process. Eddie Ryan wasn’t a big part. When I saw the movie, I was expecting it to be like that and it wasn’t at all.”

Harris believes he understands Ryan.

“He’s a genuine guy that is so human,” he said. “He wants people to be alright. He advocates for whom he believes in. Sometimes he doesn’t know how to say who he is. He knows how to move a crowd. I relate to him. I feel close to him. He’s quirky.”

A triple threat, Harris sings, acts and easily rouses an audience with his high-energy, syncopated tap dancing.

Harris performs a 2 1/2-minute tap solo in one part of the show that brings down the house.

“I love to dance, sing and act,” said Harris, a Chicago native taught to dance by his choreographer mother. “Doing shows like ‘Funny Girl’ is the perfect vehicle for me.”

Harris, who lives in New York because “That’s where all the work is,” has been dancing as long as he could walk.

Initially, he wanted to be an actor. Then he started dancing at the age of 5.

“My mother (Florence Walker Harris), who is a professional choreographer, put me in classes as soon as I could walk,” said Harris whose first professional job was a show called, “The Scottsboro Boys” at the Porchlight Theater in Chicago where he got to sing, tap and act. “By the time I was in high school, I was expressing myself through the dance form.”

When he became a show-stopping actor, Harris’ life changed but he didn’t let it change him.

“I feel like it’s normal,” said Harris, who was teaching tap dance at the American Tap Dance Foundation before landing the role in “Funny Girl.” “I have a sense of eyes being on me because this is my first national tour. Having a main role and a main solo and being part of a show that is so momentous is incredible. The show has powerhouse talent throughout. In this role, I’m growing my career and myself.”

Harris, who believes “true art is alive,” and that he would “rather be good than recognized,” has had an impressive career. Soon after moving to New York in August 2021, he got a role in “The Tap Dance Kid” at the New York City Center in March 2022 and then “Riverdance” in Dublin, in June of the same year.

“When I did ‘The Tap Dance Kid,’ I learned socially that I was nervous,” said Harris, who once wanted to be an astronaut and an artist who draws sketches. “There is a thing called professional casual. You have to learn how to mix nervous with professional casual. When I did ‘Riverdance,’ I learned about communication. I’m learning on this tour that I can relate a little more. I’m learning how to go into these different worlds.”

Harris’ jobs call for a lot of traveling, both domestically and internationally.

“Travelling has its pros and cons but the good thing is, I get to see my family and friends I haven’t seen in a long time,” said Harris, a Columbia College Chicago grad. “The con is, I have no stability. For instance, I was trying to get a rental car when we were in Des Moines. I only had a temporary license. 

“My real license was at my house. I hadn’t been home in a while. I must admit, there is a bit of exhaustion. Whether I’m traveling or doing eight shows a week, it’s exhausting in the best way. It’s like loving someone.”

The original, 1964 show starred Barbra Streisand in her Broadway debut. She went on to star in the movie, opposite Omar Sharif in 1968.

“Funny Girl,” directed by Michael Mayer, stars Harris, Katerina McCrimmon, Melissa Manchester, Stephen Mark Lukas, Walter Coppage, Leah Platt, Cindy Chang, Eileen T’Kaye and David Foley Jr., and an exceptional ensemble.

It is being staged at the Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., in downtown Los Angeles through April 28. Tickets start at $40. Information: 213-628-2772. 

Darlene Donloe is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers South Los Angeles. She can be reached at