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Lea Michele has become a polarizing figure in the theater world. From allegations of misbehavior and harassment on the set of Glee to rumors that she can’t read, Lea seems like more of a mythical creature than an actress.

The plot has thickened now that Michele is starring in the Broadway revival of Funny Girl after replacing show opener Beanie Feldstein. The transition between roles wasn’t without drama of course, as many fans of the show were quick to point out the differences between Feldstein, Michele’s and even understudy Julie Benko’s finale dresses. For the finale of the show, Feldstein wore a red dress with sleeves, however, the sleeves were omitted from both Benko and Michele’s costumes, leading many to believe that the choice of sleeves for Feldstein was made out of fatphobia due to her status as a plus size actress.

These rumors only support the idea that producers were originally set on casting Michele in the lead role of Fanny Brice from the start, preferring her over Feldstein when they couldn’t get Lady Gaga and Idina Menzel to sign onto the show. Casting Michele as Fanny initially could’ve been disastrous for the show due to the star’s horrendous reputation of creating toxic environments on set, especially on Glee where she was accused of racism and bullying by her fellow castmates. Many cite this as why Jane Lynch quit the show immediately following the announcement that Michele would be replacing Feldstein, despite the actress and game show host claiming the two events were unrelated.

Fans speculate that Feldstein was the second choice to Michele and set up for failure from the start. Even Feldstein’s fiercest defenders agree that she was not ready to take on a score like Funny Girl. While nailing the comedic aspects of the show, Feldstein could not compare with the ever present comparisons to Barbara Streisand, who played the main role in the show’s film adaptation. Thus, the production earned negative reviews from critics, barely scraping by with a Tony award nomination. Feldstein’s performance is what is believed to have led to her short run and subsequent replacement. It’s said that Feldstein didn’t merely quit but was fired in favor of Michele.

News of Michele’s new role only further stoked the conspiracy. Some fans even went as far to claim that a prophecy made on Glee was unfolding right before their eyes. In season 5 of the show, Michele’s character – Rachel Berry, a character many cannot tell apart from Michele herself – had secured the role of Fanny Brice in a Broadway revival of Funny Girl. Rachel faked being sick and missed a performance in order to fly to Los Angeles to create a new TV show, which she plans to star in. A mere week into her run as Fanny, Michele tested positive for COVID-19 and announced via Instagram that she would be taking ten days off before returning to the show. So if a new show pops up with Lea Michele – and probably Ryan Murphy as well – we’ll know the prophecy is true.

COVID is the least of Michele’s current woes as she fights an uphill battle against rumors that she’s illiterate. In 2017, Jaye Hunt and Robert Ackerman of the “One More Thing” podcast first made claims that Michele was illiterate through a 40 minute segment with mountains of evidence collected from Michele’s many years in entertainment. The video was deleted, reuploaded, and deleted again, being wiped clean from the Internet – which many believe is the work of Michele’s PR team. The rumors spread like wildfire and before long it was just another one of the Internet’s many inside jokes. Many even jested that her good friend Jonathan Groff – who she’s known from their time playing Wendla and Melchior in the first run of Spring Awakening – stayed over at her house when her role in Funny Girl was announced to write an Instagram post for her. However, Michele has spoken out against the theory, telling the New York Times that the rumors are “sad” and “sexist.” She does not at any point deny the rumors, declining to prove them wrong by ignoring any attempts at reading in public. The star did however seemingly read a children’s book for the SAG-AFTRA Foundation’s Storyline Online. The conspiracy’s staunchest supporters say that she could’ve memorized the lines beforehand.

The world may never know if Lea Michele can truly read but everyone can stay tuned to see if the star ends up getting her own TV show if Funny Girl doesn’t work out.

Bree is a sophomore political science major at the University of Pittsburgh who enjoys writing. In her spare time, she likes to eat cheesecake, read psychological thrillers, and hiking.
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