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Funny Girl theatre marquee
Funny Girl theatre marquee
Original photo by Emily Mepham
Culture > Entertainment

Inside the Funny Girl Drama

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Illinois State chapter.

The “Great White Way” has been bustling with excitement and drama lately—the most notable of which being Lea Michele getting the role of Fanny Brice in Funny Girl. 

If you’re not a theatre kid or Gleek, you may have no idea what I’m talking about. You may have the blissful ignorance I wish I had. But here is a breakdown of it all so you can be filled in!

Pre-Funny Girl Revival

Funny Girl opened on Broadway on March 26, 1964 and closed three years later. Barbra Streisand originated the leading role (Fanny Brice), earned a Tony nomination for Best Actress for her performance, and reprised the role in the movie version of the musical in 1968. 

Fast forward about fifty years and Glee, a musical television show following a high school glee club, features Lea Michele in a leading role. Even during the very first episode, Michele’s character, Rachel Berry, describes Streisand as her role model. Throughout the seasons, she sings multiple songs made famous by Streisand including about 5 show tunes from Funny Girl. She even plays Fanny Brice in a Funny Girl Broadway revival within the show. (Yes, you read that right. There’s a storyline in Glee where Rachel Berry gets the role of Fanny Brice in a Funny Girl revival on Broadway. Three episodes later she ditches the show to become the star of her own television show but we’re not here to talk about that today.)

The Opening of the Funny Girl Revival 

The previews for the Funny Girl Broadway revival started on March 26, 2022 (exactly 58 years after the original production opened) and officially started performances on April 24, 2022. However, it was announced about a year prior and immediately everyone thought the lead role would go to Michele, someone often compared to the incomparable Streisand who originated the role. So when it was announced that Beanie Feldstein—an actress in movies like Ladybird and Booksmart—had been cast as Fanny Brice, it was a total surprise. 

Well, not a total surprise. 

Right around the time casting decisions were being made, Michele was being criticized for alleged racist behavior toward her costars like Amber Riley and Samantha Ware (rightfully so). She apologized but the damage had already been done, so it just seemed like the casting directors of Funny Girl decided to go in a different direction. 

Regardless, Michele was never confirmed to be in the running in the first place, she just seemed like the obvious choice. So Feldstein ended up as the original Fanny Brice for the revival and when critics gave her negative reviews, rumors of her only being cast due to her dad being one of the producers ran rampant (even though she had Broadway experience in the revival of Hello Dolly!). So much so that all of Michele’s past transgressions were forgotten and she was once again being mentioned in any conversation attached to Funny Girl in that everyone wanted to see her as Fanny on Broadway. 

Lea Michele Enters the Chat 

On July 10, 2022, Beanie Feldstein announced that she would be leaving the production at the end of the month, two months earlier than planned. It became clear that some type of drama was happening within the production causing Feldstein’s early leave and was all but confirmed the following day when it was announced that Lea Michele would begin performances as Fanny in September. (Fans also found it comical that Jane Lynch, one of Michele’s costars from Glee, would also be leaving the production earlier than planned before Michele would join the cast.) 

So Feldstein finished her run, breathtaking standby Julie Benko took over for a month, and Michele eventually began performances on September 6. About seven standing ovations later, it was apparent that the crowd loved Michele’s take on Fanny and the many claims she would save the show were proved correct. 

Despite the strict no-recording rule in every theatre, videos from Michele’s opening night surfaced on the internet very quickly. There was also an audio clip from the night that was very popular with Michele reading the line “I haven’t read many books,” and the audience erupting in about 10 seconds of laughter. (If you want to go down the rabbit hole with more drama, I highly recommend researching the “Lea Michele can’t read” conspiracy—it’s a good one). After watching Michele in Funny Girl, most people can agree that not only is she incredibly talented, she also closely resembles Streisand’s performance in the original Funny Girl. 

So What Do I Think? 

I have many, many conflicting emotions about this drama. On one hand, I despise Lea Michele’s past actions. On the other, my senior dance solo was performed to the actress’ rendition of “Don’t Rain On My Parade,” meaning I always feel nostalgic hearing that song. Ultimately, I know her talent will fulfill whatever expectations “Streisand Funny Girl purists” have in mind and make each and every Gleek, including me, emotional. 

However, I saw the original cast of the Funny Girl revival live. And it was everything I had hoped for and more. Beanie Feldstein was not as bad as critics insisted she was. She was delightful, hilarious, and, yes, extremely talented. She made Fanny her own, separate from Streisand—a choice I loved. Unfortunately, most other people did not love that choice; so here we are. 

I hope this breakdown helps you understand just what is going on over at the August Wilson Theatre and why you should check up on your favorite Gleek this month. At the very least, the insanity and irony of living in a Ryan Murphy storyline is enough to grasp anyone’s interest. 

And that’s what you missed on Glee

Emily Mepham

Illinois State '25

Hi! My name is Emily and I am an English major at Illinois State University. Obviously, as an English major, I do a lot of writing and, thankfully, I love it! My entire personality consists of coffee, Disney, and Taylor Swift. I hope you enjoy my writing at least half as much as I enjoy writing it! <3 em