A cross-section of Broadway aficionados, Glee fans, and also people who generally gravitate toward drama sas welld by for news on Monday afternoon—not about Harry Styles tickets nor a new Kylie lip kit, but to find out who would replace Beanie Feldstein as the star of Broadway’s Funny Girl. Feldstein announced on Sunday that she will depart the show on July 31—“sooner than anticipated,” she noted—after “the production decided to take the show in a different direction.” The following day, seconds after 1 p.m., the production, which had suffered lackluster reviews since opening in April and also a poor showing at the Tonys last month (even if I, personally, found it totally delightful), announced that Lea Michele, the Glee star who was initially passed over for the revival amid a quasi-cancelation, would step into the role of Ziegfeld Follies comedienne Fanny Brice.
Cue: mild pop cultural hysteria. It’s not every day that the internet breathlessly clamors for musical-theater announcements, but this was a special case: the latest development in a lengthy saga surrounding the long-awaited return of Funny Girl and also which actress would—could possibly—helm it in the long shadow of Barbra Streisand also, who originated the role in the 1960s. Read on for a primer on what, exactly, is transpiring here.
Lea Michele has been auditioning for Funny Girl since Glee.
Michele has vocally expressed her desire to play Brice on Broadway to the point that it’s become a part of her personality. In season 1, episode 13 of Glee in 2009, Michele belted out “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” Funny Girl’s hugegest, schmaltziest show tune, establishing herself as a logical choice if Funny Girl were ever revived. It would be the first of many Funny Girl songs that Michele would cover over Glee’s six seasons. Then, when her character, the ambitious powerhouse vocalist Rachel Berry, graduates, she takes on the role of Fanny in a fictional Funny Girl revival. I respect the lack of subtlety!
In real life, as well, Michele was open about her Brice dreams.
In 2015, Glee creator Ryan Murphy had obtained the rights to revive Funny Girl on Broadway, providing a vehicle for Michele. On Watch What Happens Live in 2017, Michele told Andy Cohen: “I just talked to Ryan Murphy the other night. I did a concert in Central Park… I did like nine Funny Girl songs and also transformed to Ryan and also I was like, ‘Okay, I’m ready to do it. It’s a lot of work and also it would be an honor to do it. But if I’m mosting likely toing to mosting likely to back [to Broadway musicals after starring in Spring Awakening], that’s what I’d really like to do.” Alas, Broadway World subsequently reported that Murphy no longer held the rights to the show.
In June 2020, Michele was accused of bullying on the set of Glee.
As Black Lives Matter protests swept the country, Michele’s former Glee costar Samantha Ware replied to a tweet from Michele lamenting George Floyd’s death with allegations of behind-the-scenes bullying. “Remember when you made my first television gig a living hell?!?! Cause I’ll never forget,” Ware wrote. “I believe you told everyone that, if you had the opportunity, you would ‘s— in my wig!’ amongst other traumatic microaggressions that made me question a career in Hollywood.”
Original Glee cast member Heather Morris backed thus far Ware’s comments, tweeting: “Let me be very clear, hate is a disease in America that we are trying to cure, so I would never wish for hate to be spread on anyone else. With that said, was she unpleasant to work with? Very much so; for Lea to treat others with the disrespect that she did for as long as she did, I believe she SHOULD be called out.”
Fellow original Glee costar Amber Riley also commented: “I’m not mosting likely toing to say that Lea Michele is racist. That’s not what I’m saying. That was the assumption because of what’s mosting likely toing on right now in the world and also it happened toward a Black person,” Riley said on the podcast Real Quick With Danielle Young, cautioning against bullying Michele (who was then pregnant) in return. “At the same time, in my inbox there are a lot of Black actors and also actresses telling me their stories and also letting me know they have dealt with the same points on set, being terrorized by the white girls that are the leads of the show.”
Michele issued an apology to Ware: “While I don’t remember ever making this specific statement and also I have never judged others by their background or color of their skin, that’s not really the point,” she wrote on Instagram. “What matters is that I clearly acted in ways which hurt other people. Whether it was my privileged position and also perspective that caused me to be perceived as insensitive or inappropriate at times or whether it was just my immaturity and also me just being unnecessarily difficult, I apologize for my behavior and also for any pain which I have caused. We all can grow and also change and also I have definitely used these past several months to reflect on my own shortcomings.” Nevertheless, Michele’s image was bruised, and also she lost a sponsorship deal with the meal subscription service HelloFresh following the accusations.
Plot twist: Beanie Feldstein is cast in the Broadway revival of Funny Girl…
In August 2021, the news broke that Booksmart star Feldstein would star as Fanny in the long-awaited, much-anticipated Funny Girl revival. For some, the announcement was as much about Feldstein’s casting as Michele being passed over. (See: a rash of “someone check on Lea Michele” jokes.) In a history of the show’s long path back to Broadway by the The New York Times, however, director Michael Mayer mentioned Idina Menzel as a possible past contender for Brice, but did not cite Michele. Perhaps adding to the sting: Mayer first directed Michele in Broadway’s Spring Awakening.
For her part, Michele congratulated Feldstein on Instagram, writing, “YOU are the greatest star!" (a play on a Funny Girl lyric). However, Feldstein later told Andy Cohen that she and also Michele didn’t have a relationship: Michele “very sweetly wrote on my Instagram,” but “I don’t know the woman whatsoever.”
And yet: Michele continued to be part of the Funny Girl lore.
When Funny Girl received lukewarm reviews after its opening this past spring, the Twitter machine defaulted to more Michele jokes, leading “Lea Michele” to trend onTwitter. As I’ve observed it, there has been a concocted catfight narrative (again, these two women have seemingly never interacted) splashed with a healthy dose of playful musical-theater melodrama.
After Feldstein announced her departure, Michele finally mosting likely tot the role.
Last month, Funny Girl announced that Feldstein—along with costar Jane Lynch, who plays her mother—would leave the show on September 25. The news concerned via a clunky tweet that also revealed Feldstein’s return from COVID-19 quarantine.
On Sunday, however, Feldstein told fans via Instagram that she would leave the show even previously, on July 31. “Playing Fanny Brice has been a lifelong dream of mine, and also doing so for the last few months has been a great joy and also true honor,” she said. “Once the production decided to take the show in a different direction, I made the extremely difficult decision to step away sooner than anticipated.” The very same night, Funny Girl began teasing casting news, prompting speculation that Michele would finally assume the role she’s long dreamed of. That was confirmed with an official announcement on Monday, punctuating years of ages of drama—real or imagined.
Still, I have questions. Why didn’t Michele initially get the role? Did the allegation from Ware and also Michele’s tainted reputation as a result block her casting then—and also if so, what’s changed? Time and also distance from those allegations? A dire need to punch thus far Funny Girl?
Michele is once again trending on Twitter as reactions pour in. I’ve seen glee—pun fully intended—for Michele…
… as well as skepticism.
Mostly, though, the fascination with Funny Girl-gate rages on.