After much speculation, it has been confirmed that Lea Michele will star as Fanny Brice in Funny Girl.
She will replace Beanie Feldstein, who has been in the role since the long-awaited revival opened at Broadway’s August Wilson Theater on April 24.
The announcement of Lea’s casting came one day after Beanie revealed in a shocking statement that she will be departing from the show on July 31.
For some context, Beanie’s run as Fanny — last played by Barbra Streisand, who originated the role in 1964 — has been anything but straightforward. Her portrayal received lackluster reviews, and in June she was forced to miss a string of performances after testing positive for COVID-19.
Upon her return, it was revealed in a tweet from the show’s producers that Beanie — along with Jane Lynch, who stars as her mom, Mrs. Brice — would be leaving for good on Sept. 25. The reason for their departure was not specified.
At the time of the announcement, speculation began mounting that Lea Michele would be stepping in as Fanny, with rumors swirling that production crews had already been informed of her casting.
In case you aren’t aware, Lea has long been attached to the role of Fanny, cementing her obsession with the character both in real life and onscreen as the fame-obsessed Rachel Berry in Glee from 2009 to 2015. She had even been tapped to star in a previous revival of Funny Girl in 2017, though this never went ahead.
It was perhaps for this reason that when Beanie’s casting was first announced in August 2021, “Lea Michele” started trending on Twitter as fans made light of her assumed jealousy over being passed up for the role once again.
However, the tables eventually turned for Lea, as on Sunday, Beanie shocked fans by announcing in a sudden statement that she’d “made the extremely difficult decision” to step back two months earlier than anticipated on July 31, citing that production had decided to take the show in “a different direction.”
Of course, this only bolstered anticipation that Lea might be first in line to fill the role. And less than a day later, the show’s official Twitter account confirmed that the former Glee star would be making her debut as Fanny on Sept. 4.
And if you’ve been online in the time since, you’ll surely be well aware that Lea’s casting has prompted a lot of mixed reactions.
Not only does this turn of events eerily mirror the fictional career trajectory of her Gleecharacter — who, just like Lea, auditions tirelessly for the role before eventually becoming triumphant in the fifth season — but the decision to crown Lea in her dream role also comes two years after she was faced with a string of bullying accusations from several of her showbiz colleagues.
In June 2020, actor Samantha Ware, who starred alongside Lea in the final season of Glee, accused her costar of making her time on the show “a living hell.”
Samantha’s accusations were prompted by a tweet in which Lea paid tribute to George Floyd and spoke out in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
In response to Lea’s statement, Samantha penned her own tweet in which she accused the actor of “traumatic microaggressions,” including a claim that Lea once threatened to “shit in [Samantha’s] wig” on set.
“Remember when you made my first television gig a living hell?!?! Cause I’ll never forget,” Samantha wrote in all caps. “I believe you told everyone that if you had the opportunity you would ‘shit in my wig!’ amongst other traumatic microaggressions that made me question a career in Hollywood.”
At the time, Samantha was seemingly backed up by several other Glee alumni, including Amber Riley and Alex Newell, who both replied to her tweet with GIFs. Alex later issued a statement of her own, writing in a follow-up tweet that her experience on Glee had also been “traumatic.”
And it wasn’t long before otherGleestars began speaking out about similar experiences.
Dabier Snell claimed to have been made to feel uncomfortable by Lea when he worked on the show in 2014, tweeting that she once told him that he wasn’t allowed to sit at a table with their fellow castmates because he “didn’t belong there.”
Heather Morris, who starred as Brittany S. Pierce across the show’s six seasons, followed up by saying that she found Lea “unpleasant to work with,” though she didn’t believe her to racist.
Amber Riley later echoed similar thoughts, adding: “I’m not going to say that she’s racist, but at the same time, in my inbox there are a lot of black actors and actresses telling me their stories, and were letting me know they have dealt with the same things being on set.”
Lea eventually issued a statement on the matter, responding to the recent claims and profusely apologizing for “any pain” her behavior may have caused.
In her apology Lea made direct reference to Samantha’s tweet, writing: “While I don’t remember ever making this specific statement and I have never judged others by their background or color of their skin, that’s really not the point. What matters is that I clearly acted in ways which hurt other people.”
Soon after the allegations surfaced, Lea lost out on brand sponsorships, including a major endorsement deal with HelloFresh, which decided to cut ties with the actor.
Just weeks after Lea’s apology, Samantha spoke out about her experiences in more detail during an exclusive interview with Variety, claiming that Lea once threatened to get her fired in front of their colleagues on set.
Samantha also alleged that she tried to speak up about Lea’s behavior, only for her claims to be “shrugged off” by executives on set.
“Lea’s actions were nothing new, so I guess since it was such a common thing, my case didn’t seem like that big of a deal,” she said. “I remember the first day I actually spoke up and unfortunately no one did anything. They just shrugged it off, like ‘That’s her.’ No one was stopping these things, which is an issue because the environment was helping perpetuate this abuse.”
And now, in the wake of Lea’s casting in Funny Girl, Samantha was among the first to make her disappointment heard, accusing Broadway of upholding whiteness.
“Yes, I’m online today. Yes, I see y’all. Yes, I care. Yes, im affected. Yes, I’m human,” she wrote in a powerful tweet. “Yes, I’m Black. Yes, I was abused. Yes, my dreams were tainted. Yes, Broadway upholds whiteness. Yes, Hollywood does the same. Yes, silence is complicity. Yes, I’m loud. Yes, I’d do it again.”
Samantha also made reference to Amber and Alex, who appeared to support her initial claims back in 2020. “My name is not Amber Riley or Alex Newell,” she wrote. “Their experience was not mine and mines was not theirs.”
She also retweeted a statement shared by writer Ryan Ken, who said: “It’s wild that the decision to tell the truth about the people who tormented you at work is a career risk, but you can stay booked and busy as one of the tormentors.”
Meanwhile, Lea celebrated the announcement on her own social media channels, calling the opportunity to play Fanny “a dream come true.”
“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,” she wrote to her followers.