Lea Michele, Beanie Feldstein, and Funny Girl’s Chaotic Journey: Everything You Need to Know

Nobody puts Rachel Berry in a corner. After weeks of speculation, on Monday it was announced that Glee star Lea Michele will replace Beanie Feldstein as Fanny Brice in Broadway’s Funny Girl revival. 

For theater g(l)eeks across the world, Michele stepping into the role is, perhaps, the most chaotic thing to happen on Broadway since Avenue Q beat Wicked for best musical at the Tonys in 2004. But those uninitiated in the world of musical theater—and the oeuvre of Ryan Murphy—may not remember the decade-plus of twists and turns that led to Michele (finally) playing Fanny Brice on Broadway. As such, here’s a quick refresher on why the luckiest people in the world (i.e. every former theater kid you know) will not stop talking about this anytime soon.

Why do people care about Funny Girl so much?

Funny Girl, written by Jules Styne, Bob Merrill, and Isobel Lennart, opened on Broadway in 1964 with a relatively unknown musical-theater actor by the name of Barbra Streisand as the lead. Belting out now classic standards like “People,” “I’m the Greatest Star” and, most famously, “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” Streisand became an overnight sensation for her work as the Jewish vaudeville-era comedienne, and went on to be nominated for a Tony and, eventually, won an Oscar for playing the role. Babs would go on to achieve worldwide superstardom as a movie star, director, songwriter, recording artist, and woman who cloned her dogs and has a mall in her basement. Basically, you don’t get Barbra Streisand without Funny Girl, and people love Barbra Streisand. 

Yet despite launching Streisand to superstardom, Funny Girl had never been revived on Broadway. The reasons for that are plenty—it’s an imperfect musical with a strong score and a weak book, for one—but finding someone with the gravitas to fill Streisand’s shoes was always part of the equation. Over the past roughly 60 years, there have been plenty of concerts and regional productions of Funny Girl, but never a Broadway revival.

How did the Funny Girl Revival get to Broadway?

It took a little help from the British. In 2015, a production of Funny Girl starring Sheridan Smith and directed by Spring Awakening’s Michael Mayer (remember that) opened at the Menier Chocolate Factory in London, with a revised script by Harvey Fierstein. This production helped launch a U.K. tour and received positive-enough reviews that it would eventually travel across the pond and open on Broadway in April of 2022, but with a new star attached: Booksmart and Lady Bird star Beanie Feldstein. 

How did Beanie Feldstein get involved with Funny Girl?

A theater kid at heart, Feldstein made no secret of the fact that it was always her dream to play Fanny Brice on Broadway. When she was three years old, Feldstein had a *Funny Girl–*themed birthday party, and in an interview on Late Night With Seth Meyers, Feldstein said that she decided not tell her mom that she was auditioning for the new production of Funny Girl. “I was like ‘If this doesn’t go my way, it’s going to hurt her so much more than it’s going to hurt me,’” she said. In an interview with the New York Times Style section, Feldstein shared that the entire audition process happened over Zoom. “The expression ‘lifelong dream’—that statement feels very applicable to me,” Feldstein told Vogue of the opportunity. “It still does not feel tangible or real.” 

What does Lea Michele have to do with any of this? 

But before Feldstein booked Fanny Brice, there was Lea Michele. Michele’s own Funny Girl obsession has been highly documented as well. After starring on Broadway as a child and breaking through as an adult in the Broadway production of Spring Awakening (remember, Michael Mayer!), Michele was cast as Rachel Berry in Ryan Murphy’s Glee—which, in some ways, was tantamount to a yearslong audition for the role of Fanny Brice. Rachel was obsessed with Barbra Streisand and performed several of Streisand’s songs on the show—most notably “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” which Michele also performed live at the Tony Awards in 2010. In fact, there was an entire subplot on season five of Glee in which Rachel Berry starred on Broadway as Fanny Brice in Funny Girl. 

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