Well, shit in my wig and call it vaudeville. As we reported last month, Lea Michele is officially taking over for Beanie Feldstein as Fanny Brice in Broadway’s Funny Girl. Feldstein announced on Sunday that she would be leaving the show earlier than expected due to the production taking the show “in a different direction.” Based on the reviews, they seem to be going in the direction of someone who can sing the notes.
We know that Michele can sing the notes because she has been very publicly gunning for this role for over a decade now. “Over a decade? Lea Michele is 35? Isn’t Fanny Brice supposed to be very young,” you’re asking. Well, yes, but if Katrina Lenk can play Bobbi in Company at 47 years old, anything is possible.
But back to Michele. History class is in session, and we are going to be boning up on all the times that Michele has tried to position herself as the only person who could ever possibly play Fanny Brice. Pay attention, because all of this will be on the quiz.
In an interview with Broadway World promoting Spring Awakening, Michele is asked what her dream role is. This predates her obsession with being in Funny Girl, so her answer is Eponine from Les Misérables. This is an important lesson in knowing that our desires can change in the blink of an eye (two years).
You might remember this as the year that Glee mania swept the country. In the show’s first season, Rachel Berry (Michele) brings the house down at sectionals with her version of “Don’t Rain on My Parade.” High school choirs have not been quite the same since. As one YouTube comment notes, “you can hate her as a person, but you gotta love her as a performer.” She did indeed body this.
Glee’s second season brings us another Funny Girl song, “My Man,” only this one is from the movie and not the musical. Rachel prefaces her performance by saying that it is “the most difficult song I’ve ever sung.”
This year she also sings the same song to Barbra Streisand at a tribute concert. Bold!
Blame it on Glee mania, but for some reason Michele performs “Don’t Rain on My Parade” at the Tonys this year. She was not nominated and the show was not coming to Broadway anytime soon. However she did get to say, “Hey Tony Awaaaards, here I aaaaam.” It’s an unconventional way of auditioning but it did work out a decade later.
This is a huge year for Michele’s relationship to Funny Girl. In the Glee-verse, Rachel is in New York and has been cast as Fanny Brice on Broadway. I will forgive you if you did not watch this far, but the later seasons of the show are some of the most pleasurably psychotic and I think you would like them. Anyway, this plot point gives Michele the opportunity to sing four different Funny Girl songs throughout the season. (One did happen in the 2013 portion of the season, but I’m counting it here.)
The best of them is when Rachel goes to rehearse “You Are Woman, I Am Man” and debuts a silly-looking bob. Her Mr. Arnstein is a character named Paolo San Pablo, who is played by Welsh actor Ioan Gruffudd. Don’t say this show wasn’t funny.
This year also had Ryan Murphy confirming that he had the rights to Funny Girl and was considering bringing it to Broadway. At the time he sounded trepidatious, telling Entertainment Weekly, “If it could come together at a time that [Lea would] be willing to make that commitment to go back to Broadway — which I don’t know that she is right now — it would have to be the right director and the right leading man.”
Michele was more outwardly excited on an episode of Watch What Happens Live, where she told Andy Cohen, “Ryan has the rights, and it's something that we'd both, I think, would really like to do. And, we've had some really exciting first meetings with a really fabulous director that we think would be really wonderful."
Seems like things were really cookin’.
Tragedy strikes. During a panel with Entertainment Weekly, Murphy says that the project had lost steam. “We had talked about it for sure,” he said. “But then I feel like we [did] so many of those songs and so many of those scenes [on Glee] that in a weird way, I feel like we did it in some way.” The parade has been canceled due to a torrential downpour.
Michele lays mostly low throughout these years. She goes back on WWHL and says that she would still love to play Fanny. She performs two Funny Girl songs at a Broadway music festival. But that’s kind of it.
When it was announced last August that Beanie Feldstein would be taking the role to Broadway, Michele left a comment (curse?) on her Instagram announcement, writing, “Yes! YOU are the greatest star! This is going to be epic!!!”
There was also the whole thing in 2020 where her Black Glee co-stars called her out for her numerous aggressions both micro and macro.
We’ve made it to the present day. Michele is officially making her dream come true by playing Fanny Brice on Broadway starting in September. As of now, none of her former Glee co-stars have taken to social media to congratulate her.