Lea Michele Replacing Beanie Feldstein In ‘Funny Girl’ On Broadway — Here’s Why It’s Controversial

Topline

Glee actress Lea Michele will take over the role of Fanny Brice in Broadway’s Funny Girl starting in September, the musical announced Monday, confirming widespread speculation she would step into the role—despite past controversies for alleged harassment—after actress Beanie Feldstein announced Sunday she was leaving the show months earlier than planned.

Key Facts

Michele will join the show on September 6, along with Tony-nominated actress Tovah Feldshuh playing her mother (replacing actress Jane Lynch), though understudy Julie Benko will play the role once a week on Thursdays, as well as through September 4 before Michele joins the show.

Feldstein announced Sunday she would now depart the show on July 31, saying she made “the extremely difficult decision to step away” early after the production “decided to take the show in a different direction.”

The show had announced in June that Feldstein and Lynch would perform through September 25—a departure date that itself was earlier than expected in Feldstein’s case, as director Michael Mayer had previously said she was contracted for a year (which would end in April 2023).

Feldstein received largely negative reviews for her performance, and the musical was mostly snubbed by the Tony Awards, earning only one nomination for featured actor Jared Grimes and none for Feldstein’s performance or in the Best Revival category.

Michele has publicly made clear her desire to play Brice since at least 2014—and her character on the show Glee eventually starred in the show on Broadway—and previously said she was in talks to remount the show with Glee creator Ryan Murphy.

Rumors that Michele would replace Feldstein started circulating after the actress’ September departure date was announced.

Big Number

$743,213. That’s how much Funny Girl grossed at the box office the week ending July 3, according to the Broadway League, the most recent week for which data is available. Ticket sales for Funny Girl have steadily gone down in recent weeks—the show grossed $1.26 million the week ending May 29—which is likely why producers chose to change up the casting and replace Feldstein.

Surprising Fact

In an interview with Andy Cohen on his SiriusXM radio show in October 2021, Feldstein said she “didn’t understand” why Michele was trending on Twitter after her casting in Funny Girl got announced, and “didn’t know that any of this was happening” with Michele gunning for the role. “She very sweetly wrote on my Instagram” to say congratulations, Feldstein said, but “I don’t know the woman whatsoever.”

Key Background

Funny Girl originally debuted in 1964 and is best remembered for making Barbra Streisand a star, and the current production marks the show’s first-ever Broadway revival. Though Michele has expressed her interest in playing Brice for years, her casting is a controversial choice given the actress has recently come under fire for allegedly mistreating her Glee castmates. A statement Michele made in support of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020 led to Glee actress Samantha Ware and numerous others speaking out about Michele’s behavior on set, with Ware tweeting about Michele’s “traumatic microagressions” against the Black actress. “Remember when you made my first television gig a living hell?!?! Cause I’ll never forget,” Ware said in a now-deleted tweet. Michele apologized for any pain she caused her castmates, but faced consequences over the allegations, including being dropped by HelloFresh from a partnership with them. After stepping back from performing following those allegations, Michele has more recently returned to the spotlight with Spring Awakening: Those You’ve Known, a HBO documentary about the Broadway musical Spring Awakening that Michele starred in from 2006 to 2008. The project marked Michele’s first major credit since her harassment scandal, and she performed at this year’s Tony Awards with her former Spring Awakening castmates.

Tangent

Michele was also the center of an internet conspiracy theory which posited the 35-year-old actress can’t read. She has repeatedly denied and laughed off the allegations, saying she believed the rumor “may have something to do with the fact I didn’t go to college.” (An anonymous source told the New York Post that Michele can, in fact, read.) Michele also garnered headlines recently with comments she made in the Spring Awakening documentary about showing actor Jonathan Groff, who is gay, her “whole vagina” as they were starring in the musical.

Further Reading

Beanie Feldstein Leaving Broadway Revival of ‘Funny Girl’ Earlier Than Expected (Hollywood Reporter)

Beanie Feldstein is exiting Funny Girl early come September (Entertainment Weekly)

Post-Controversy Lea Michele Returns to the Spotlight in ‘Spring Awakening’ Doc (Daily Beast)

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