Photo By Bruce Glikas from Wireimage
What happens when a musical show has more drama offstage than onstage? What happens when negative reviews of the show result in a controversial casting choice?
NEW YORK– On September 6, 2022, “Glee” star Lea Michele returns to Broadway as the lead role Fanny Brice in “Funny Girl,” playing at the August Wilson Theater. Michele’s return to Broadway has set a widespread buzz around Broadway, for better or worse. Since the revival of “Funny Girl” opened last April 24, 2022, the show has been plagued with more drama and controversy onstage than offstage?
Before the Drama
The musical first opened on Broadway in 1964, which launched Barbra Streisand into superstardom. She later starred in the movie version of the musical in 1968, with Omar Sharif as her lover, Nicky Arnstein. The movie earned Streisand her first Academy Award. Since then, no other staging had been brought to Broadway.
Nearly sixty years later, the revival was announced, starring Beanie Feldstein as Fanny Brice, Ramin Karimloo as Nicky Arnstein, Jared Grimes as Eddie Ryan, and Jane Lynch as Mrs. Brice. Despite Feldstein’s impressive credits (whose credits include Monica Lewinsky in “Impeachment: American Crime Story,” “Booksmart,” and “Ladybird,” as well as making her Broadway debut in the 2017 revival of “Hello, Dolly!” which starred Bette Midler), theater fans and reporters were surprised at the casting. Michele was not only vocal about wanting to play the lead in the past, but she had also performed many “Funny Girl” songs on “Glee.”
Bad Reviews and Bad News
When the revival opened on Broadway in the spring, it was greeted with many negative reviews.
The New York Times theater critic Jesse Green wrote, “To rip the bandage off quickly: Feldstein is not stupendous. She’s good.” While he commended her “sweet and clear” voice, he noted that her voice was not powerful enough for the score. “You root for her to raise the roof, but she only bumps against it a little,” Green continued. “Her voice, though solid and sweet and clear, is not well suited to the music, and you feel her working as hard as she can to power through the gap.”
Adrian Horton from the Guardian also noted that Feldstein’s singing “just isn’t up to par,” describing it as “noticeably untextured compared to the rest of the cast.”
Producers began looking for a replacement soon after the negative reviews came in. Their source shared that they stood by their leading lady despite the negative reviews. I felt the show would tank if we didn’t let Beanie go. She should have left, and that handover should have happened three weeks after opening.”
With negative reviews, barely any Tony Award nominations, and pressure from producers, Feldstein announced her last bow would be on September 25. However, by mid-July, Feldstein took to Instagram to share that she would depart the show much earlier than expected: July 31. Feldstein explained: “Playing Fanny Brice on Broadway has been a lifelong dream of mine, and doing so for the last few months has been a great joy and true honor. Once the production decided to take the show in a different direction, I made the extremely difficult decision to step away sooner than expected.”
Like any full-scale Broadway production, Feldstein was only Act One of the controversies. When the show announced that Michele would step in as Feldstein’s replacement for a September 6 curtain call, many were upset.
Diva Behavior Offstage
In 2020, Michele was called out and subsequently canceled for her diva behavior towards her cast members on both TV and Broadway shows. In response to one of Michele’s tweets, Samantha Ware, an actress on “Glee,” called out the “traumatic microaggressions” Michele did to her. In an interview with Variety, Ware said Michele would humiliate her in front of the cast and crew.
“When I tried to speak up for myself, she told me to shut my mouth. She said I don’t deserve to have that job,” Ware told Variety. “She talked about how she has reigned. And here’s the thing: I completely understood that, and I was ready to be like, ‘This is your show. I’m not here to be disrespectful.’ But at that point, we were already past the respect, and she was just abusing her power.”
Other coworkers, such as Yvette Nicole Brown, Alex Newell, and Heather Morris, came forward and shared stories of the toxic work environment. As a result, Hello Fresh reportedly ended their partnership with Michele.
However, when Michele was announced as the new Fanny Brice, Ware tweeted, “Yes, Broadway upholds whiteness.”
A New Act
In a recent interview with the New York Times, Michele said she took the time to reflect on her behavior and how to move forward. “I really understand the importance and value now of being a leader,” she said. “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.” Michele said that her pursuit of perfectionism and intense work ethic, which has been described as toxic, can be traced back to her childhood actress years.
When the lights dim and the curtain rises at the August Wilson Theater on September 6, Michele will not only be tasked with performing as Fanny Brice but also to prove the critics wrong. As her opening night draws closer, Michele told the Times that she was just trying to focus on her upcoming performances. “I don’t care about that at this point,” she said. It’s just about being able to play this part.” It’s apparent critics and controversies will not rain on her parade.
Do you think Michele should not have been welcomed back on Broadway? How should “diva behaviors” be held more accountable?
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