Lea Michele is Broadway’s next ‘Funny Girl.’ So Beanie Feldstein is leaving early
It’s official: Lea Michele will soon star in “Funny Girl” on Broadway.
The “Glee” actress is set to follow Beanie Feldstein in the first Broadway revival of the beloved musical, which centers on the legendary Jewish vaudeville star Fanny Brice. Feldstein will depart the production at the August Wilson Theatre on July 31, two months earlier than previously announced. Fanny Brice standby Julie Benko will play the title role from Aug. 2-Sept. 4 as well as on Thursdays beginning Sept. 8. Michele will assume the role on Sept. 6, alongside newcomer Tovah Feldshuh as Mrs. Brice and current cast members Ramin Karimloo as Nick Arnstein and Jared Grimes as Eddie Ryan.
With music by Jule Styne and lyrics by Bob Merrill, “Funny Girl” loosely follows the life and career of stage and screen comedian Brice, and her tumultuous relationship with her gambling businessman husband, Nick Arnstein. This Broadway production, directed by Michael Mayer, features a revision of Isobel Lennart’s book by Harvey Fierstein; Mayer and Fierstein previously teamed for a hit London revival of the musical, starring Sheridan Smith.
Feldstein — who made her Broadway debut as a scene-stealing Minnie Fay in 2017’s “Hello, Dolly!” revival — initially was set to exit “Funny Girl” on Sept. 25. That date also was to be the final bow for Jane Lynch, who plays Brice’s mother in the musical. Lynch, however, will not be working with her former “Glee” co-star; she will now leave the production slightly earlier, on Sept. 4, and Feldshuh will play Mrs. Brice alongside Michele.
“Once the production decided to take the show in a different direction, I made the extremely difficult decision to step away sooner than anticipated,” Feldstein announced Sunday on Instagram.
“Playing Fanny Brice on Broadway has been a lifelong dream of mine, and doing so for the last few months has been a great joy and true honor,” wrote the “Booksmart” and “American Crime Story” actress in her post. “I will never forget this experience, and from the bottom of my heart, I want to thank every single person who came to the August Wilson for the love and support you have shown me and our amazing cast and crew.”
Playing Fanny Brice onstage has always been a tall order. (After directing the original 1964 Broadway production, Garson Kanin wrote a 1980 novel that was loosely based on this very casting request, and said bestseller then became the 2012 TV show “Smash.”) The role famously launched Barbra Streisand into superstardom; she then reprised her Tony-nominated performance in the 1968 film (and won an Oscar) and followed it with the 1975 sequel “Funny Lady.”
Casting an actress who can work in Streisand’s long shadow, or can entertain audiences who still remain devout to Streisand’s definitive take on its beloved score, is a task that has previously paused producers from remounting the show on Broadway. This revival received only one Tony nomination, for featured actor Jared Grimes — a disappointing haul for what had been a high-profile project.
“I appreciate Feldstein’s unique self and have no desire to hold her up against Streisand’s impossible standard. But ‘Funny Girl’ is a gigantic haul, and though she bravely acquits herself, she never makes the role her own,” wrote Times theater critic Charles McNulty. “Feldstein has a mobile face and a knack for pratfalls, but she’s not yet a master clown. And her singing is a mixed blessing. She can belt ‘Don’t Rain on My Parade’ with enough power to bring the audience ecstatically to its feet at the end of the first act, but her nonbelting voice rarely gains traction.”
Review: ‘Funny Girl’ still belongs to Barbra Streisand, but Beanie Feldstein is easy to love
The first Broadway revival of ‘Funny Girl’ reveals why it’s taken so long to return.
The “Funny Girl” lead is a gig that Michele has attempted to manifest for years. The “Spring Awakening” breakout star performed the musical’s standout number, “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” multiple times on “Glee,” as well as the Fox show’s corresponding live tour, her own concert sets and even at the Tony Awards.
According to the New York Times, Michele had tried to get attached to the various plans for a revival over the years; at one point, “Glee” creator Ryan Murphy nabbed the rights and had hoped to replicate the onscreen plot — of Michele’s character, Rachel Berry, starring in “Funny Girl” on Broadway — in real life.
“A dream come true is an understatement,” Michele wrote on Instagram. “I’m so incredibly honored to join this amazing cast and production and return to the stage playing Fanny Brice on Broadway.”
This marks Michele’s first time on Broadway since exiting “Spring Awakening” in 2009. She first started acting in Broadway’s “Les Misérables,” “Ragtime” and “Fiddler on the Roof,” and followed a six-season run on “Glee” with the short-lived TV shows “Scream Queens” and “The Mayor.”
“Funny Girl” also will be Michele’s first major role since reports of her troubling behavior made headlines in 2020. After actress Samantha Marie Ware accused Michele of subjecting her to verbal abuse and “other traumatic microaggressions” on the set of “Glee,” Michele issued a statement of apology and largely remained out of the press. (That is, until the release of HBO’s “Spring Awakening” documentary earlier this year, followed by numerous appearances at Broadway openings and the Tony Awards last month.)
Ware responded to the casting news Monday on Twitter, writing, “Yes, I’m online today. Yes, I see y’all. Yes, I care. Yes, im affected. Yes, I’m human. Yes, I’m Black. Yes, I was abused. Yes, my dreams were tainted. Yes, Broadway upholds whiteness. Yes, Hollywood does the same. Yes, silence is complicity. Yes, I’m loud. Yes, I’d do it again.”
Internet users have poked fun at Feldstein and Michele’s reactions to various “Funny Girl” developments: Michele’s name trended on Twitter when Feldstein’s casting was announced last August and was heavily memed when Feldstein’s performance was met with critics’ lackluster reviews in April. But the behind-the-scenes drama of recasting the onstage comedy is no joke.
“If lea performs in that musical and yall go see her i will never let yall live it down that yall dont give a f— about black women and their experiences in this industry,” tweeted “Oklahoma!” actress Sis on Sunday night.
“idk about y’all but so many people celebrating the idea of a plus size queer actor being replaced by an actor people say is a terror to work with ... feels real gross to me,” tweeted Backstage social media manager Katie Minard.
Times staff writer Christi Carras contributed to this report.
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