Reading between the lines of the ‘Funny Girl’ controversy

Zoe Leone, Associate Arts & Life Editor

This year’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade opened with a Broadway bang, featuring Lea Michele and the cast of the “Funny Girl” musical performing the beloved classic “Don’t Rain on My Parade.” While casual viewers delighted in Michele’s stellar vocals, others were less enthused by the performance.

“The parade opening with funny girl and lea michele was a jump scare,” wrote Twitter user @ssydneyyyyy.

For those who are not caught up on their lore, here’s what you missed on “Glee.”

When it was first announced in early August 2021 that “Funny Girl” would be returning to Broadway, people couldn’t help but speculate that the lead role of Fanny Brice, originated by Barbra Streisand, could perhaps go to the Broadway actress turned “Glee” star, Michele.

Michele starred on the hit show “Glee” as Rachel Berry, a Streisand-obsessed diva who went on to star in “Funny Girl” after graduating. Michele’s co-star, Jane Lynch, was later announced to be joining the revival.

The role, however, initially went to Beanie Feldstein, who made her Broadway debut in the 2017 revival of “Hello, Dolly!” As a Jewish actress, Feldstein’s casting was celebrated for staying true to the roots of Brice. Michele herself even expressed support for the revival, speaking out on Instagram and podcasts about her excitement.

However, the debut of “Funny Girl” brought in divided audience reactions. While the show was celebrated, many reviewers felt that Feldstein was miscast. Some thought her vocals weren’t strong enough to live up to Streisand’s iconic tone, while others thought her acting wasn’t larger-than-life enough. After a lack of Tony nominations, the show quickly began losing money.

Things continued to take a turn when Feldstein announced in early June that she would be temporarily stepping down from the role after testing positive for COVID-19. After her two-week quarantine, she took to her Instagram to announce that the end of September would see her last performance as Brice, even though she was originally contracted for a full year’s run. Lynch was also announced to be leaving the show on the very same date.

On July 10, Feldstein took to Instagram once again to announce that she would be leaving the role after the production decided “to take the show in a different direction.” The next day, the newest Fanny Brice was announced: none other than Michele herself.

While it’s easy to laugh off Michele’s casting as a “Glee” storyline comes to life, there are layers to the replacement that easily leave a bad taste in your mouth. It’s widely known that Michele is a difficult actress to work with, with her “Glee” co-stars admitting that they were scared to alert higher-ups about her behavior.

Her problematic behavior stretched past much more than just a diva-like persona. When Michele posted about George Floyd’s murder on Twitter in 2020, many of her Black co-stars came out with stories of her racist treatment of them while on the show. Ranging from telling one that she would “shit in her wig,” to referring to several Black dancers as “roaches,” nearly everyone had a story of their encounters with Michele.

As Michele’s past was tossed aside in order to bring the money back into “Funny Girl” (the value of tickets have skyrocketed since her role takeover), it seemed that it also came at the expense of Feldstein as well.

When Michele made her debut as Fanny Brice, her costumes were notably different from those of Feldstein. As pointed out by TikTok user Alaina Noelle, Michele’s iconic Brice finale dress had no sleeves and was much more body-conforming in comparison to Feldstein, who is a plus-size actress.

Not only was the costuming different, but promotional material as well. While Feldstein’s Playbill design featured a graphic of the actress, Michele was featured front and center in a photograph. As the August Wilson Theater was wrapped in photos of Michele as Brice, it was clear to see that the production did not hold the actresses as equals by any means.

So while “Funny Girl” may now be bringing in the money and the praise, the production will forever be marred by the casting controversy. A rain on their parade, indeed.