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With ‘Funny Girl’ looming, Lea Michele is still addressing those bullying claims

A woman in a dress looking over her left shoulder.
Lea Michele arrives at the 75th Tony Awards in June at Radio City Music Hall in New York.
(Evan Agostini / Invision / Associated Press)
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Less than a week before debuting as Fanny Brice on Broadway, Lea Michele addressed past allegations about her conduct on the set of her hit TV musical “Glee” and the fallout that has embroiled her since.

In 2020, when Michele was among the many who showed their support for the Black Lives Matter movement following the death of George Floyd, “Glee” actor Samantha Marie Ware accused the star of subjecting her to verbal abuse and “other traumatic microaggressions” on the high school musical show’s set.

Michele’s public apology ignited another firestorm as several members of the show’s original cast, along with a producer for the TV series, shared their thoughts and made their own accusations about Michele’s alleged bullying and prima donna attitude.

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The “Funny Girl” star recently told the New York Times that the allegations prompted an “intense time of reflection” about her conduct at work. She also said that it equipped her to be a part of, and lead, a Broadway company for the first time since leaving a 2008 production of “Spring Awakening.” “Funny Girl” will mark her first major role since the allegations surfaced two years ago.

“I really understand the importance and value now of being a leader,” she told the newspaper in an interview published online Thursday. “It means not only going and doing a good job when the camera’s rolling, but also when it’s not. And that wasn’t always the most important thing for me.”

Ware also publicly criticized Michele’s casting in “Funny Girl,” tweeting in July that “Broadway upholds whiteness.” The New York Times profile noted that Michele “declined to address the specifics of Ware’s account” because she doesn’t “feel the need to handle things” through the media. Ware did not comment in the story.

The 36-year-old singer and dancer has aspired to lead “Funny Girl” as Fanny Brice since the days on her hit Fox show and has performed several songs from the stage and film productions over the years. When she debuts at the August Wilson Theatre on Sept. 6, she plans to embody Brice as a wife and mother instead of as the fame-obsessed “Glee” club captain. And that’s bringing something new to the part for her.

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Michele also recognized that her work style is intense to a fault, and blamed her upbringing as a child actress on Broadway for that because she was expected to perform at a consistently high level.

“I have an edge to me. I work really hard. I leave no room for mistakes,” she said. “That level of perfectionism, or that pressure of perfectionism, left me with a lot of blind spots.”

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Controversy has not only dogged the “Scream Queens” actor, but also the struggling revival of “Funny Girl” that premiered last spring. Michele takes over the role from Beanie Feldstein, who bowed out of the musical in July, months earlier than planned.

While Michele’s casting has been a boon for ticket sales, it also set the gossip mill churning about the stars and the production, including allegations that Michele drove out her former “Glee” co-star Jane Lynch, who played Mrs. Rosie Brice on the show. (Lynch later gave Michele her stamp of approval.)

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Michele was reportedly the production team’s first choice for the lead role when the show was gearing up to transfer from London to New York. But she was passed up after the birth of her first child, Ever, who was still a baby at the time.

After Feldstein was cast, Michele told the team that she’d be “honored” to step in if Feldstein were to leave — and thanks to them sharing an agent — took it on swiftly after Feldstein announced her departure and her understudy Julie Benko played Brice for the month of August. (Michele will perform seven shows a week and Benko will continue playing Brice in Thursday evening shows.)

“Everyone here has been through a lot, and I just have to come in and be prepared and do a good job and be respectful of the fact that this is their space,” Michele told the New York Times.

Elsewhere in the profile, Michele spoke about her late boyfriend and “Glee” co-star Cory Monteith and internet rumors that she’s illiterate.

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“I went to ‘Glee’ every single day; I knew my lines every single day,” she said. “And then there’s a rumor online that I can’t read or write? It’s sad. It really is. I think often if I were a man, a lot of this wouldn’t be the case.”

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