A Broadway star was reborn this week as Lea Michele made her hotly anticipated return to the New York stage in “Funny Girl.”
The “Glee” actor and singer’s debut performance as Fanny Brice earned her at least four standing ovations Tuesday, though accounts of the exact tally vary. The star-studded crowd ― which reportedly included Drew Barrymore, Jonathan Groff, Zachary Quinto and New York Gov. Kathy Hochul ― fêted her and co-star Tovah Feldshuh once again at curtain call, with both women graciously accepting bouquets of white roses.Advertisement
A four-time Tony Award nominee, Feldshuh also joined the production Tuesday as Mrs. Brice, Fanny’s mother.
“Funny Girl” marks Michele’s first time as a member of a Broadway company since leaving “Spring Awakening” in 2008. Neither she nor Feldshuh will be formally reviewed by critics until later this month.
Still, the response from a handful of journalists who were in attendance at the August Wilson Theatre Tuesday was nothing short of rapturous.Advertisement
“It’s wild to say, especially because the notion is that Michele’s casting as Fanny is so obvious, but as good as one assumes she would be, she is somehow even better,” the Daily Beast’s Kevin Fallon wrote.
The New York Post’s Johnny Oleksinski was perhaps even more exuberant in his praise, noting: “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. Hell, she probably has!”
As many fans can attest, Tuesday’s performance was very much a full-circle moment for Michele, who had long cited Fanny Brice as a dream role. As Rachel Berry on “Glee,” she sang numerous songs from the musical, including “Don’t Rain on My Parade” and “People,” over the course of the series’ six-season run. The character even starred in a fictional Broadway revival of “Funny Girl.”
Producers are counting on Michele’s presence to breathe new life into the show as a whole. She’s replacing Beanie Feldstein, who originated the role of Fanny Brice in the current production. The “Booksmart” actor’s performance was widely panned by critics after the musical opened in April, and she exited the show earlier than planned amid reports of behind-the-scenes tensions and declining ticket sales.Advertisement
Backstage intrigue aside, Michele’s casting also has more than its share of detractors.
The actor was at the center of a media firestorm two years ago when several of her “Glee” co-stars came forward with accusations of on-set bullying and prima donna behavior. The most damning claims came from Samantha Marie Ware, a Black actor who said Michele made her time on the show a “living hell” due to “traumatic microaggressions.”
Michele publicly apologized for her alleged behavior. In a New York Times profile published last week, she said the backlash had spurred an “intense time of reflection” that had improved her professional morale for the better.
“I really understand the importance and value now of being a leader,” she said. “It means not only going and doing a good job when the camera’s rolling, but also when it’s not. And that wasn’t always the most important thing for me.”
See photos from Lea Michele’s opening night in “Funny Girl” below.Bruce Glikas via Getty ImagesJared Grimes, Ramin Karimloo, Lea Michele, Tovah Feldshuh. Bruce Glikas via Getty ImagesRamin Karimloo, left, and Lea Michele.Bruce Glikas via Getty ImagesLea Michele Bruce Glikas via Getty ImagesRamin Karimloo, left, and Lea Michele. Bruce Glikas via Getty ImagesLea MicheleBruce Glikas via Getty ImagesJared Grimes, Ramin Karimloo and Lea Michele. Advertisement
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Curtis M. Wong
Senior Culture Reporter, HuffPost