What happens when you wave the role that made Barbra Streisand a star like a carrot over the heads of fame-hungry musical-theater actors for over half a century? Drama, mama. Beanie Feldstein is officially leaving Broadway’s Funny Girl revival early after just ten weeks since opening night, and Lea Michele has been called in to replace her beginning September 6. It is, shall we say, a choice. Now rumors are coming out from within the show that all the Ryan Murphy–level drama one might imagine from the outside is fully happening on the inside. The sources are singing like a pissed-off Patti LuPone, and if you don’t know what that means or need a refresher on why this all matters — hi, reformed Gleeks! — Vulture’s got a gossip guide for you. XOXO.
Explain it as if I’ve never even heard of Barbra Streisand.
Fair ask! There are a lot of levels to this, and luckily we do have a full timeline of everything that’s gone on here. However, if you just want the basics, it boils down to this: Fanny Brice has been the most coveted role on Broadway for decades even though Funny Girl was never revived (despite several failed attempts) partly because everybody was scared of Barbra Streisand’s star-making performance in the 1964 original production and 1968 film. Michele has been long associated with the role because her Glee character, Rachel Berry, loved it and even landed the role on Broadway in season five’s fictional revival, back when a revival was but a dream. In 2021 — about a year after Michele was called out for alleged anti-Black microaggressions while on Glee — Booksmart and Hello, Dolly! alum Beanie Feldstein was announced to be playing Fanny in the show’s first-ever Broadway revival.
When did the rumors start to feel true?
This production has been more rumor-fueled and contentious than most Broadway productions in recent memory. Rumors were circling as soon as Feldstein was announced to be exiting on June 15. Paul Wontorek, the editor-in-chief of Broadway.com, posted a tweet on June 16 seemingly confirming Michele’s casting, for example. It’s unknown who leaked the Michele situation outside the discussion between producers, stars, and agents, but the leak meant Feldstein endured weeks of extra comparisons, social-media trolling, and mental turmoil.
The first big report came in late June in Gawker, weeks before the announcement was officially made and reportedly months before the announcement was intended to be made. According to the Daily Beast, the rumors prompted an implosion of the already tense situation for Feldstein. “As soon as the Gawker story appeared about Lea, it got very contentious. She stopped speaking. Up until then, it was very much one-on-one,” said the source. “If not that day, then the day after, we were told we could not speak to her and to go through her reps. That was the first negative shift. Everything went downhill very quickly after that.”
Wait, do Feldstein and Michele know each other?
Honestly? Kind of unclear. It initially seemed as though they were compared through a matter of circumstance. Michele was publicly associated with Funny Girl through Glee, and Feldstein got the role. When Feldstein was cast, there were a lot of comparisons between the two online. But Michele did comment on Feldstein’s Instagram post announcing that she would be playing the role, saying, “Yes! YOU are the greatest star! This is going to be epic!!”
Well, that’s friendly —
Then, in October, well before Funny Girl premiered, Feldstein addressed the comparisons on Andy Cohen’s SiriusXM radio show RadioAndy by saying, “All of a sudden people started explaining it to me, and I was like, ‘What?’ Like … ‘I didn’t understand.” She later added, “I don’t know the woman whatsoever.” Based on that slightly shady comment, it seems as though the two women didn’t know each other but understood the situation.
One connection between the two was that Michele had worked with Funny Girl’s director, Michael Mayer, on her breakout show, Spring Awakening. That wouldn’t be enough to really connect them in any way, but the recent Daily Beast article added a previously unreported dimension to the relationship: The two women share a theater agent. That doesn’t mean they know each other necessarily, but it does mean that someone, namely David Kalodner of WME’s theater department, was representing the women on both sides of the role.
So what was up with Feldstein’s Instagram post?
Feldstein was already announced to be leaving in September, but the post on June 10 revealed she would be leaving July 31 instead. “Once the production decided to take the show in a different direction, I made the extremely difficult decision to step away sooner than anticipated,” it read. The Notes-app release did not seem approved by producers, and “Page Six” recently had a “Broadway insider” confirm it. “She clearly doesn’t give a shit,” they said to the outlet. The Daily Beast’s source gave a slightly more nuanced depiction, saying that the producers were given a slight heads-up, acknowledging, “We didn’t care for Beanie. Her Instagram post is accurate.”
A few days after the Daily Beast piece, Feldstein and the producers released a joint statement in People saying the producers were “not blindsided” by the post. “The producers decided to take the show in a different direction and end Beanie’s contract on September 25th, 6 months earlier than anticipated,” they said in the statement. “A month after that decision, Beanie decided it was best for her to leave on July 31st. The producers were aware of and in support of her decision. The producers and Beanie worked on this together professionally, respectfully and graciously.”
What does “We didn’t care for Beanie” mean? How can you not care for that punim?
After the show and Feldstein got negative reviews, particularly in regard to her voice, it appears that some producers wanted to replace Feldstein immediately. “My feeling was to get rid of Beanie and get Lea in as soon as possible,” said the Daily Beast’s source. That didn’t happen; instead, the show kept her on, which opened a door for everybody to start praising Julie Benko, her understudy. Benko’s TikTok account ended up going pretty viral, and when Feldstein had to take two weeks off because of COVID-19, Benko’s performance was raved about online. That reportedly led to some discord among Feldstein and the producers. “They were harmless posts, and it was fine until people started saying how amazing Julie was, which didn’t reflect well on Beanie after all the negative reviews,” said the Daily Beast’s source about the TikToks. “The producers spoke with each other and were evenly split on whether to allow the posts. The producers didn’t shut it down, and maybe they should have. Beanie minded it. She said words to the effect of, ‘I don’t feel supported by you while I’m away.’”
Where does Funny Girl go from here?
In the short term? Right to the box office. According to Deadline, Feldstein’s been playing to 65 percent full Broadway houses, while prices for Michele’s are through the roof. The highest price one could pay for Michele’s opening night? Twenty-five hundred dollars. In the long term, these two actresses with experience in the Ryan Murphy school of acting seem destined to play themselves in 2032’s auto-fiction anthology Feud: Battle of the Fannies.
This post has been updated throughout.