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Hello Gorgeous: Accountability and Representation on Broadway

In 1964 “Funny Girl” starring Barbara Streisand opened at the Winter Garden Theatre. The production earned eight Tony Award nominations including a ‘Leading Actress’ nomination but lost in every category and after three years on Broadway, the show closed. The show left a major impact on the musical theatre world including a movie adaptation featuring Streisand, a West End run and revival and two North American tours. 

Almost 60 years later, the first official Broadway Revival of “Funny Girl” would hit the stage in 2022. The “Booksmart” and “Lady Bird” star, Beanie Feldstein, was set to take on the titular role of Fanny Brice. Having played the comedic role of Minnie Fay in the 2017 revival of another 1964 musical “Hello, Dolly!” this iconic role was not the “Impeachment” star’s Broadway debut. 

Despite the finalized casting decisions, “Glee” fans could not resist imagining Lea Michele following in her character, Rachel Berry’s, footsteps and securing the Streisand role. In the hit early 2010s musical comedy-drama, Michele played a high school Glee Club member with huge “Funny Girl” Broadway dreams. She became known for her rendition of the show-stopping and notoriously difficult Act I finale ‘Don’t Rain on My Parade.” 

The “Funny Girl” revival continued without Michele and opened at the August Wilson Theatre in early 2022 accompanied by immediate mixed reviews. The production only received a singular Tony award nomination as ticket sales and profits were plummeting. The reception of Feldstein’s Fanny Brice caused another influx of calls for Michele to take over the role. After news of Feldstein’s extremely early departure, it was clear that the Glee star might have a chance. 

Feldstein and her castmate Jane Lynch, another former “Glee” star, were set to leave the cast on September 25th but moved their end dates earlier. Supporters of Feldstein’s felt that she had been mistreated by the production team and the critiques of her performance turned into hate fuelled fatphobia

Meg Masseron, from ‘American Theatre’, explains how casting Feldstein was a win for representation. Masseron explains how she saw “earnest expressions of enthusiasm about her being cast in this role, as we’d not yet seen a plus-sized woman play it on Broadway.” She goes on to express what she thought of the unnecessary bullying, “I do know how people attempt to mask their disdain for larger-bodied people. I know how they often do not even realize they possess that disdain and write off their feelings for someone as being general annoyance of a seemingly unknown cause.”

Almost immediately after Feldstein announced her early departure, it was revealed that Lea Michele would be taking over the role after all. This news was met with both joy and outrage. Many commented on the loss of representation and on Michele’s alleged ‘difficult to work with’ reputation. Others turned to the production team’s handling of the situation and blasted the perceived disrespect to Feldstein. 

In 2020, Samantha Ware, Michele’s former castmate, tweeted about her experience on “Glee.” She spoke directly to Michele and asked, “remember when you made my first television gig a living hell?!?! cause ill never forget.” 

Michele did address these comments stating “I listened to these criticisms and I am learning and while I am very sorry, I will be better in the future from this experience,” but this may not have been enough for those that she hurt. On the day of her casting announcement, Ware tweeted that “Yes, I was abused” and “Yes, Broadway upholds witness.” 

Lea Michele has brought in a month of success for “Funny Girl” but some Broadway enthusiasts are asking at what cost. Whether the drama and disrespect to other performers are worth the success of a production is something ticket buyers have control over but producers ultimately get the final say. If fans and critics alike want a more equitable and representative Broadway, it seems like it is up to them to fight for one. 

Caroline is a sophomore at American University majoring in Communication Studies with a minor in Literature. She loves all things books, theater, and dance. Caroline is currently a Feature Writer for HCAU living in DC.
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