Lea Michele takes her first curtain call as “Fanny Brice” in “Funny Girl” on Broadway at The August Wilson Theatre on September 6.
Lea Michele received a warm reception in her return to Broadway.
The “Glee” star’s turn as Fanny Brice in “Funny Girl” earned her four standing ovations before intermission, according to Deadline. She was celebrated again at the final curtain, with Michele and co-star Tovah Feldshuh accepting bouquets of white roses.
Feldshuh plays Mrs. Brice in the production.
In the audience was Michele’s former “Spring Awakening” co-star Jonathan Groff, “Glee creator” Ryan Murphy and actor Zachary Quinto.
Michele would often reference “Funny Girl” during her time on “Glee,” with her character Rachel Berry belting out “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” “I’m the Greatest Star” and “People” from the musical.
“Funny Girl” last featured “Booksmart” actor Beanie Feldstein in the title role.
Feldstein left “Funny Girl” two months early after it was announced she was being replaced by Michele, saying she was following the decision to “take the show in a different direction.”
Lea Michele Earns Multiple Standing Ovations After Finally Taking Over ‘Funny Girl’ On Broadway
Lea Michele earned widespread praise for her first performance as Fanny Brice in the musical Funny Girl on Broadway Tuesday night, according to multiple reports, after the Glee actress controversially took over the role from Beanie Feldstein after years of publicly angling for the part.
Audience members were “buzzing” over Michele’s first performance, according to accounts on Twitter and in multiple news reports, with one eyewitness telling E! News, “The audience was losing their minds at pretty much anything Lea did.”
Michele received at least six standing ovations during the performance, according to People, including four in the first act of the show alone.
Glee creator Ryan Murphy and actor Jonathan Groff, Michele’s close friend, were among the celebrities present in the audience Tuesday, Variety reports, adding Groff “looked positively ecstatic” when Michele was onstage and “[sobbed] at various points.”
Michele also reportedly received “laughter and gasps” from the audience when her character says at one point, “I hadn’t read many books,” given the wild conspiracy theory alleging the actress can’t read.
“She’s the greatest star alright,” one fan said at the theater about Michele, People reports, while Harvey Fierstein, who updated the musical’s book, was overheard telling a friend, “I haven’t had a night like this in the theater in years.”
Actress Tovah Feldshuh also stepped into the show Tuesday as Michele’s mother—replacing her former Glee co-star Jane Lynch—with New York Post critic Johnny Olekinski reporting Feldshuh is the “funniest girl” in the show and “a marvel.”
“Michele is ready to go. She’s revved up and performs like she’s been belting ‘Don’t Rain On My Parade’ in the shower every day for 10 years,” Olekinski wrote in the Post. “Together with the titanic Feldshuh, the Glee star lifts this wanting production into something much more palatable than it was back in the spring.”
While a number of publications sent reporters to Michele’s first performance, critics will be formally invited to come back and review the show in a few weeks, according to the Post and Deadline.
$2,500. That’s how high the priciest tickets to Michele’s first performance were selling for, according to multiple news reports from right after the news broke she was stepping into the show.
Some small changes were made to this production of Funny Girl after Feldstein departed the show and was replaced with Michele, who’s more of a singer than her predecessor. The production added in the song “I’d Rather Be Blue Over You” for Michele, which the actual Fanny Brice sang in the 1928 film My Man and Barbra Streisand performed in the film adaptation of Funny Girl in 1968, but was not previously part of the stage show.
This production of Funny Girl marks the first time the show has been revived on Broadway since its initial production in 1964, which was best remembered for making Streisand a star. Feldstein originated the role of Fanny Brice in the production but garnered controversy when her performances yielded largely negative reviews and was snubbed by the Tony Awards, with Funny Girl only picking up one nomination for supporting actor Jared Grimes. Though Feldstein was supposed to stay with the production for a year after it opened in April, it was announced in June that she would depart on September 25—and then in July that she would actually leave even sooner, on July 31, with Michele replacing her. Michele has publicly expressed her desire to play Brice since at least 2014 and was previously in talks to remount the show with Murphy, but the actress has more recently generated widespread controversy due to allegations she mistreated her ex-cast mates. Glee actress Samantha Ware accused Michele of making her work on the show “a living hell” and other actors made similar accusations, and Michele lost sponsorship deals and stayed out of the public spotlight for years as a result. She then returned to the screen this year in a documentary on Spring Awakening, which Michele starred in on Broadway from 2006 to 2008. Michele has apologized for the alleged harm she’s caused her castmates, and told the New York Times this month the allegations “prompted an ‘intense time of reflection’” for her and she “really understand[s] the importance and value now of being a leader.”
Lea Michele Replacing Beanie Feldstein In ‘Funny Girl’ On Broadway — Here’s Why It’s Controversial (Forbes)
Lea Michele Receives 4 Standing Ovations Before Intermission at Her First Performance of ‘Funny Girl’ (People)
Six Standing Ovations Later, Lea Michele Triumphantly Returns to Broadway in ‘Funny Girl’ (Variety)
‘Funny Girl’ review: Lea Michele lifts Broadway show out of the guttah (New York Post)
Lea Michele Is Well Aware That the Pressure Is On (New York Times)
Standing O’s and Subtext at Lea Michele’s First Funny Girl Performance
Seconds before the lights went down at Lea Michele’s first performance of Funny Girl, Jonathan Groff sped down the aisle to his seat at the center of the orchestra, right next to Ryan Murphy, who gave the actress a starring role in Glee. “I knew he’d be here,” the woman sitting next to me muttered under her breath. “There he is. Slay!” As soon as Michele appeared onstage, Groff, her close friend since the days of the 2006 musical Spring Awakening, popped up to lead a standing ovation. After a decades-long, controversy-filled history of desperately wanting to play Fanny Brice, Lea Michele was finally in the role on Broadway. At the first performance, the audience was there to cheer on the greatest star, though you could put any part of that fervent sentiment in air quotes.
The stakes of Michele’s entrance into the show are clear: Funny Girl, the first Broadway revival of the show since Streisand opened it in 1968, premiered this spring, inauspiciously on Barbra’s 80th birthday, starring Beanie Feldstein as Fanny Brice. Feldstein could not sing the part (and the reviews weren’t kind to the rest of the production, either). After getting blanked at the Tonys, the show started to flounder in ticket sales, and rumors bubbled that Feldstein might soon be replaced. By the time it leaked that Michele was going in for Fanny, Feldstein announced plans to leave early on her own accord, implying she was unhappy the show was going in a “different direction.” Michele has been basically auditioning to play Fanny Brice since she first appeared on Glee, where she kept delivering performances in that Barbra vein, but there are plenty of good reasons to be suspicious of her casting. She’s also accused of bullying her co-stars and racist behavior. (She swears, in her most recent Times profile, she has cleaned up her act.)
There were only a few glimpses of argyle in the crowd, a nod to Michele’s role as Rachel Berry on Glee. Instead, the audience seemed full to the brim with characters from the great blob of the theater world: agents, producers, co-producers, seemingly entire staffs of Broadway ad agencies, reporters, and the theater owner Jordan Roth. There was also a mix of celebrities from a category I think of as “Thom Browne–ad-campaign adjacent,” including Lee Pace and his husband, Thom Browne himself, Drew Barrymore, Zachary Quinto, Spring Awakening’s John Gallagher Jr. and Gideon Glick, and, of course, Murphy and Groff. Also there for some reason: Kathy Hochul. Less a natural crowd for Michele to make her entrance than Astroturf.
The ethos of the evening is best described by that one screenshot of Kurt Hummel in Glee responding to Miss Rachel Berry with “she may be difficult, but boy can she sing.” I will leave it to the critics who show up in a few weeks once things have settled to parse how well the whole thing works when people who aren’t personally, financially, or ironically invested in the success of the experience are in the audience. But Michele sang like her career depended on it. Her voice can soar. By my count from an orchestra seat, there were four standing ovations in the first act: for her entrance, “The Greatest Star,” “People,” and “Don’t Rain on My Parade.” (The first began with Groff and, in the mezzanine, with someone Twitter has already dubbed “a twink in opera gloves.”) In the second act, there were two more, her entrance and the closing reprise, which were sustained through the curtain call. (Does that make it seven? Nobody told me the rules.) Shout out to the smattering of audience members who tried to get people up for Ramin Karimloo’s “Temporary Arrangement” and for Jared Grimes and newcomer Tovah Feldshuh’s “Who Taught Her Everything She Knows?” And, if you want a case study in Michele doing comedy, there she was tap dancing and fiddling with a prop mustache that simply would not stick during “Rat-Tat-Tat-Tat.”
The awareness of Michele’s more spotty reputation as a star came in, almost involuntarily, in the several moments where Fanny Brice jokes about not being very well-read. There’s a longstanding bit of internet lore that Michele herself can’t read that’s grown in steam as her reputation for being cruel to her castmates has become better known. (She denied the illiteracy allegations to the Times, which has only made them more of a meme). So when Fanny tells Nick Arnstein that he acts like a character in a book, and “I haven’t read many books, so …” there were the obligatory face-value laughs at the lame joke and the rumbles of deeper recognition at the meta-joke — plus the stern hushings of people who also know the joke but do not find it funny. (A friend heard someone mutter, “Don’t do that!” near them.) By the time Fanny admitted she doesn’t know what patronizing means in Act Two, it felt like dissension might break out between those who were simply there to support and those who were also hoping to snicker. That’s what happens when the crowd seems to exist on separate, colliding tectonic plates, one-half wanting to see redemption and the other tilting a bit toward comeuppance.
The show ended just before 10 p.m., running under the wire of three hours (and no, for the record, they haven’t added in “My Man”). Michele and Feldshuh both received giant bouquets during their bows and looked suitably farklempt, cheered on by Groff and Murphy and the woman sitting next to me, who was now crying. Then the audience spilled out into the street in a burst of energy and takes. There were huddled conversations among friends. Fox 5 set up a video camera recording testimonials for local news. People pulled out hats and posters and gathered near the stage door waiting for Michele to emerge. Once she did, it was almost impossible to make her out through the crowd of people, all willing this big star-arriving moment into existence. Near the back, that same fan in opera gloves shouted, “Lea, I can’t see you, but you fucking ate!”