Actress Lea Michele will land the role of Fanny Brice in the Broadway revival of Funny Girl in early September, the show announced Monday after Beanie Feldstein abruptly announced she was leaving the role sooner than expected.
Feldstein wrote in an Instagram post Sunday night that her “dream” run as Brice, a spunky stage performer who becomes a star with the Ziegfeld Follies, would end on July 31, rather than the previously announced September 25 date. Without elaborating, Feldstein, whose performance in the role received lukewarm reviews, wrote that she was leaving the musical early because the production “decided to take the show in a different direction.”
The show quickly signaled that its sequel was just around the corner, and it was announced Monday that Michele – who starred in the original Broadway production of Spring Awakening and is best known for her central role on the television show Glee – would debut in the role on September 6.
Until then, actress Julie Benko, who played Brice as Feldstein’s understudy, will step in. Under a new agreement, Benko will continue to play the role once a week on Thursdays after Michele takes over.
In an Instagram post after announcing the news, Michele wrote: “A dream come true is an understatement. I am so incredibly honored to be part of this amazing cast and production and to return to the stage and play Fanny Brice on Broadway.”
The show also announced that actress Tovah Feldshuh, who starred in the original Broadway production of “Yentl,” will take on the role of Brice’s devoted mother, currently played by Jane Lynch. The show previously announced Lynch would be leaving after September 25, but the new announcement pushed back her departure a few weeks earlier. This schedule means that Michele and Lynch, who co-starred on “Glee,” will not appear together.
After Barbra Streisand originated the role of Brice in the original 1964 production, the show evaded a Broadway revival for decades, in part because comparisons to Streisand’s star performance seemed hard to avoid.
It was no secret that Michele — who opened each chapter of her 2014 memoir Brunette Ambition with a quote from either Streisand or Brice — was interested in the role. A key storyline for her character in “Glee,” a cutthroat from the high school glee club the show is based on, is to play Brice, giving Michele the opportunity to sing songs like “People” and “I’m the Greatest.” star “performing” during the series.
Glee co-creator Ryan Murphy secured the rights to Funny Girl because he thought Michele’s character would audition for the role in the TV series and then maybe Michele would act in the show in real life . During a 2017 appearance on Andy Cohen’s talk show, Michele said they considered collaborating on a Broadway production after Glee ended, but it felt premature because she had just performed many of the songs on the TV show .
“But I feel really ready to do it now,” she said on the show, “so maybe we can do it soon.”
That dream has not come true – until now.
Michele was 8 years old when she made her Broadway debut as Young Cosette in Les Misérables, but spent more than a decade focusing primarily on television. Michele sang at the Tony Awards last month during a reunion performance with other Spring Awakening original cast members.
In 2020, meal kit company HelloFresh ended its partnership with Michele after a former “Glee” cast member, Samantha Marie Ware, who is black, tweeted that Michele was responsible for “traumatic microaggressions” towards her. Michele posted an apologetic statement on Instagram, saying she didn’t recall making a specific comment Ware had written about, but added that she had reflected on her past behavior. “Whether it was my privileged position and perspective that caused me to be perceived as insensitive or inadequate at times, or it was just my immaturity and I was just being unnecessarily difficult, I apologize for my behavior and for any pain, that I caused.” she wrote.
The current production of Funny Girl, which opened in April at the August Wilson Theater, has seen strong ticket sales, averaging approximately $1.2 million each week for the 14 full weeks since performances began. The show’s only nomination at last month’s Tony Awards was for Jared Grimes’ role as Brice’s friend Eddie Ryan, a tap dancing extraordinaire who is helping Brice’s rise in show business.
Grimes will continue in his role, as will Ramin Karimloo, who plays Brice’s supreme love interest, Nick Arnstein.