One of Broadway’s most persistent rumors was finally confirmed on Monday: Lea Michele will play Fanny Brice in the Funny Girl revival starting Sept. 6, the show announced on social media. But Michele’s imminent arrival also arrives amid the pushed-up departure of the revival’s original Fanny Brice, the circumstances around Michele’s journey to getting the role, and resurfaced reminders about her alleged conduct on other projects.
“A dream come true is an understatement,” Michele said in an Instagram post. “I’m so incredibly honored to join this amazing cast and production and return to the stage playing Fanny Brice on Broadway. See you September 6th.”
However, the announcement—which also revealed that Tovah Feldshuh would take over as Mrs. Brice from Jane Lynch—didn’t come without bouts of controversy. We already knew that Beanie Feldstein (the show’s original Fanny Brice) and Lynch were planning to bow out at the end of September. But on Sunday night, the Funny Girl’s Twitter teased “exciting casting announcements” just as Feldstein released a statement pushing up her Funny Girl departure by nearly two months; the statement reportedly left the production “blindsided.”
Feldstein pointed to “the production taking the show in a different direction” as the reason for her new departure date; her final show will now be on July 31; Julie Benko, a standby for Fanny Brice, will take over the role in-between Feldstein’s exit and Michele’s entrance.
“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 honor,” Feldstein wrote. “Once the production decided to take the show in a different direction, I made the extremely difficult decision to step away sooner than anticipated.”
Although Feldstein didn’t elaborate on what that direction was, Theater Twitter’s mind instantly turned to the person whose name has been linked to the Funny Girl revival long before she was officially part of it: Lea Michele.
Funny Girl and the role of Fanny Brice have long been linked to Michele. On Glee, her character, Rachel Berry, performed “Don’t Rain on My Parade” in season 1, and the character later starred in a Broadway revival of Funny Girl. She would perform Funny Girl’s showstopper at the 64th Tony Awards, and as far back as 2017, Michele said she’d be interested in doing Funny Girl. When Feldstein’s casting was announced, Michele’s name started trending, something that, at the time, confused Feldstein.
But between Feldstein’s cryptic statement and the seemingly imminent arrival of Michele’s casting, people’s imaginations went wild imagining what behind-the-scenes drama led to these events occurring (and how we might revisit it in decades to come).
People also used the casting to bring back the longstanding (but not very serious) conspiracy theory that Michele can’t read (which she debunked in 2018).
With Michele’s Glee co-star Lynch in the original cast, people couldn’t help but imagine the possibility of Rachel Berry and Sue Sylvester colliding on stage—or even not. (Lynch’s final performance is now on Sept. 4, so that potential Glee reunion won’t happen.)
But not everybody was on board with the casting. Many took to highlighting previous reports of Michele’s behavior on the stage and on the Glee set, which included instances of bullying and accusations of racism from many of her former co-stars. Some also thought that Feldstein, whose performance as Fanny Brice received mixed reviews, was treated unfairly.
“Lea Michele is proof that if you don’t change or learn even a single thing when faced with your reprehensible behavior, all of your wildest dreams can come true!!” Cody Wimmer tweeted. “Stay the course!!”
But even that aspect ended up being meme fodder.
Michele and Feldshuh’s first performance will take place on Sept. 6.