Hello, gorgeous, take two. On July 11, Lea Michele was announced as the next Fanny Brice in the Broadway revival of Funny Girl, following Beanie Feldstein’s expected, and then sudden, exit. Depending on whom you ask, this casting choice was either inevitable, something that should have been avoided at all cost, or a combination of both. Michele is best known for her time on Glee playing Rachel Berry, a high-school theater kid and starlet on the rise who idolizes Barbra Streisand so much she reneges on her nose-job plans after listening to the song “Barbra Streisand.” On season five of Glee, Rachel fulfills her lifelong dream and is cast in a Broadway production of Funny Girl. Now, in a death blow to those of us hoping Glee couldn’t predict the future, Michele has followed suit.
Her casting, seemingly written in the stars — if Ryan Murphy wrote the stars, that is — is not without controversy. The handling of Feldstein’s departure has reportedly been … contentious. Michele has been accused of alleged mistreatment of Black cast members on Glee. There’s been subtle Instagram shade, expected and unexpected backlash, and behind-the-scenes drama that’s still unfolding. It’s all kind of a mess. So how did we get here? Well, the story is kind of long and full of suspense. Strap in because we’re doing a full-fledged timeline.
April 14, 1969
Our story truly begins back in 1969, when Barbra Streisand ties with Katharine Hepburn to win the Oscar for Best Actress at the 41st Annual Academy Awards. Streisand originated the role of Fanny Brice in Funny Girl on Broadway in 1964 but lost the Tony for Best Leading Actress in a Musical to Carol Channing in Hello, Dolly! The musical was a gigantic step in her career, taking her from little-known cabaret singer to Broadway superstar, and her performance in the film catapulted her to the upper echelon of fame, reifying the role of Fanny Brice in Funny Girl as hers. Because of it, Streisand goes on to a long and illustrious career. Fanny, meanwhile, stays in a vault — an idol to young Jewish girls who love musical theater everywhere but far away from Broadway, where any actress playing the role fears being compared to Barbra.
Thirty-one years later, an 8-year-old girl named Lea Michele makes her Broadway debut in Les Miserables as a replacement in the role of Young Cosette, which she performs until 1998.
June 24, 1996
While a young Michele is still on Broadway singing “Castle on a Cloud,” a young Beanie Feldstein is having her third birthday party. As she later tells Seth Meyers, it was Funny Girl themed.
October 1, 1996
A Funny Girl tour begins its time on the road in Pittsburgh with pop star Debbie Gibson in the starring role. It is the first Funny Girl production of note since the show closed on Broadway. The specter of Streisand hangs over the show like the Sword of Damocles, though the team tries not to show it. Director Sammy Bayes tells Playbill, “A lot of actresses try to do Fanny Brice by going through Barbra Streisand. But this is Miss Deborah Gibson, and it’s got to be her Fanny Brice, from her point of view.” Gibson herself says, “I love and admire Barbra Streisand enormously, but I’m not intimidated. I know I’m right for this role.”
November 26, 1996
Two months later, the show is hemorrhaging. Playbill reports that there is a seven-week span without booked shows. Broadway is no longer in the picture. The message is clear: This part still belongs to Streisand.
December 11, 2006
Spring Awakening premieres on Broadway. The show is a rock musical based on Frank Wedekind’s original play about the sexual repression of German teens. Michele stars as Wendla, a young German girl whose mother refuses to teach her about sex and who ultimately dies of a botched abortion. Her notices are good. Charles Isherwood writes in the New York Times that, since the show’s off-Broadway premiere, “the performances of the actors in the central roles of the anguished teenagers” — including “Ms. Michele as the inquisitive Wendla” — “have become deeper and sharper.” The show goes on to win Best Musical at the Tony Awards, though Michele is not nominated. The popularity of the show catapults Michele to new stardom.
May 19, 2009
Glee premieres in a first look with Michele in the lead role as a Jewish aspiring musical-theater superstar named Rachel Berry. Glee co-creator Ian Brennan refers to Rachel as “all ego” and “a fantastic little fireball of a starlet who’s spectacularly talented and utterly tone deaf to how she comes across to people.” The show is almost instantly a success when it debuts the next fall.
December 9, 2009
The Glee season-one mid-season finale, “Sectionals,” airs, and Michele performs “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” one of the biggest numbers from Funny Girl. “I loved seeing Rachel finally get the chance to unleash her inner Streisand with ‘Don’t Rain on My Parade,’” writes James Ponziewak for Time. “As we see here, as much of a pill as she can be, her ability to whip out a performance she’s been working on since age four is an asset.” A mini-Streisand is born.
June 8, 2010
Producer Bob Boyett announces that he intends to produce a Funny Girl revival with director Bartlett Sher, reports Playbill. The revival is announced to be opening in 2011, and Michele is on the list of potential leads. “I think Lea is wonderful, she’s great, and she would certainly be on anybody’s list,” Boyett says.
June 13, 2010
At the 64th Annual Tony Awards, Michele performs “Don’t Rain on My Parade” as part of a Glee segment. The audience includes Beyoncé and Jay-Z, whom Michele directly sings to and who are only slightly amused.
August 2, 2011
It is reported by Playbill that Six Feet Under star Lauren Ambrose is in talks to be in the production. Sorry, Lea.
November 7, 2011
The Ambrose production is canceled. Sorry, Lauren. (But don’t feel too bad for her — she’ll get her golden-age starring moment before the decade is up.)
May 9, 2013
Over in Glee-land, Rachel is at a callback for Funny Girl, singing “To Love You More,” by Celine Dion, in the season-four finale.
October 3, 2013
Rachel is cast in Funny Girl.
March 4, 2014
Michele tells BroadwayWorld that Murphy has acquired the rights to Funny Girl and that they are in talks to bring Michele as Fanny to the stage.
April 22, 2014
Over in Glee-land, Rachel opens Funny Girl on Broadway to rave reviews.
May 9, 2014
Murphy discusses having the rights to Funny Girl with Entertainment Weekly. In his telling, “Funny Girl starring Lea Michele” is much less of a certainty than it was when Michele gave that interview two months back. “Right now, we’re just sort of testing the waters with different people,” says Murphy. He adds that Michele “and I have made no mistake of our mutual love for that property, so if it could come together at a time that she’d be willing to make that commitment to go back to Broadway — which I don’t know that she is right now — it would have to be the right director and the right leading man.”
May 22, 2014
Michele says on Watch What Happens Live, “We’ve had some really exciting first meetings with a really fabulous director that we think would be really wonderful.” But, she adds, “doing that show would take so much energy, and coming right off of the sixth season of Glee, I definitely am going to tour my album a little bit this summer, but definitely next summer … And I have to work on my second record, so when we have the time, we would love to do it.”
October 26, 2015
Murphy says it’s not gonna happen. “We had talked about it for sure,” Murphy says at a Glee panel with Entertainment Weekly. “But then I feel like we so [did] many of those songs and so many of those scenes [on Glee] that in a weird way, I feel like we did it in some way.” But we never got to see Lea Michele fumbling on roller skates, Ryan Murphy! What about that?
November 20, 2015
A production of Funny Girl starring Sheridan Smith opens in London and goes to the West End. It notably has a revised book by Harvey Fierstein.
March 20, 2015
The Glee series finale airs. The once-mighty Queen of Buzz is now put out to pasture without much second thought. It is considered almost universally true that Glee got bad.
November 10, 2017
Greta Gerwig’s film Lady Bird premieres, introducing much of the world to Beanie Feldstein, who plays Lady Bird’s best friend, Julie. Feldstein is also starring in Hello, Dolly! with Bette Midler on Broadway. In a Vulture piece titled “Who Is Beanie Feldstein and Why Is She Suddenly Everywhere?” Jackson McHenry writes, “Of course, since she is on Broadway, yes, Beanie can sing.” Of course.
June 2, 2020
Glee-era controversy comes to the surface for Michele. After she posts on social media in support of Black Lives Matter, her former Glee co-star Samantha Ware tweets that Michele harassed her on set and says she once threatened to “shit in her wig.” “Girl, you wouldn’t let me sit at the table with the other cast members cause ‘I didn’t belong there,’” claims Glee guest star Dabier in a post. “Fuck you Lea.” Other Glee cast members, including Amber Riley and Alex Newell, post GIFs that imply they enjoy and agree with what is being said. The same day, Michele loses a HelloFresh sponsorship.
June 3, 2020
Michele responds to the controversy with a strong non-apology apology. “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 not really the point,” writes Michele. “What matters is that I clearly acted in ways which hurt other people. Whether it was my privileged position and perspective that caused me to be perceived as insensitive or inappropriate at times or whether it was just my immaturity and me just being unnecessarily difficult, I apologize for my behavior and for any pain which I have caused.”
August 11, 2021
Feldstein is officially cast in Funny Girl. Other actresses, including Lady Gaga and Idina Menzel, had been rumored to star between the end of Michele and Murphy’s production and the announcement of Feldstein’s casting, but this is the first official news. Even after the controversy, Michele is so strongly associated with the role that she trends on Twitter.
October 13, 2021
Feldstein goes on Andy Cohen’s SiriusXM radio show and discusses the fact that she is getting compared with Michele. “I didn’t know that any of this was happening, by the way,” she tells Cohen. “All of a sudden people started explaining it to me, and I was like, ‘What?’ Like … I didn’t understand.” Then Feldstein says, “I don’t know the woman whatsoever.”
April 24, 2022
A few months later, Funny Girl opens on Broadway, 58 years after the original production’s opening night. It is universally panned, and Feldstein receives the harshest critiques. “In song after song, Feldstein’s voice lets her down. Piercing and unpleasant when it gets any higher than her chest, fading and pitchy when it descends even a few steps, it’s simply not a sound you expect to hear on Broadway,” writes New York Magazine theater critic Helen Shaw. Many of the reviews mention the dreaded truth: It’s still Streisand’s show. Many wonder what Michele thinks of the reviews.
June 15, 2022
A social-media post by Funny Girl on Broadway announces Feldstein is departing Funny Girl on September 25. Reasons why are not given, but it is not uncommon for stars on Broadway to have limited runs. Rumors begin to circulate that Michele will be the replacement, though the official company does not confirm.
July 10, 2022
Feldstein announces on social media she will be leaving Funny Girl early; her final performance will be July 31. “Once the production decided to take the show in a different direction, I made the extremely difficult decision to step away sooner than anticipated,” she states, causing speculation around what “different direction” she was referring to.
August 9, 2022
Jane Lynch, who has played Mrs. Brice in the current Broadway production, is announced to be leaving the show earlier than expected. Her last scheduled performance will be on August 14, before her former Glee co-star takes over for Feldstein. When Michele was announced, it was also announced that Tovah Feldshuh would join her as Mrs. Brice, so the former Gleeks were never intended to perform together. Before Feldshuh joins Michele on September 6, Mrs. Brice will be played by Lynch’s current standby Liz McCartney. “You know, it was just a really strong idea to have Feldshuh and Lea premiere together,” said Lynch to Deadline on July 12. “I’m so glad she’s getting the opportunity in real life to do the show and not just on Glee.” Why is she leaving early? According to a release, Lynch always had a vacation scheduled starting on the 14th, and was already planning on departing the show September 1 to be at the Creative Arts Emmys, where she is nominated for her work on Only Murders in the Building. “Rather than return for one week of performances, the producers have agreed to adjust her final performance to Sunday, August 14,” reads the press release.
September 6, 2022
Michele debuts as Fanny in Funny Girl on Broadway. Bootlegs galore — including audio recordings, at least one livestream, and a multitude of illegally filmed TikToks — go viral. Michele accrues six standing ovations over the course of the production, according to Variety. The internet’s long-running joke about Michele being illiterate gets the audience to laugh at the line “I haven’t read so many books.” Still, Michele has fulfilled not only her own dream but Rachel’s as well. “Don’t Rain on My Parade” has made it from the Glee club’s sectionals to the Broadway stage.
September 10, 2022
Michele announces that she won’t be performing as Fanny Brice for the Saturday performance of Funny Girl, as she began developing early symptoms of COVID. “Due to production’s safety protocols I’m not allowed to perform for today’s shows,” Michele writes. “Julie is going to crush it today as Fanny.” She shared she will be taking another COVID test soon to see if she can perform tomorrow night. Gleeks were quick to point out that this announcement truly proved that life imitates art; Michele as Rachel Berry in “The Back-up Plan” pretended to be sick during her Funny Girl run in order to film a TV pilot in Los Angeles.
September 17, 2022
While Michele is in quarantine until she returns to Funny Girl on September 20, she’s not letting anyone rain on her parade. She dueted a parody video of her performance for “Don’t Rain On My Parade” in her first-ever Tik Tok.
March 2, 2022
Michele, alongside Feldshuh, Nicky Arnstein portrayer Ramin Karimloo, and Funny Girl’s sole Tony nominee, Jared Grimes, extend their runs through September 3, when the show will close. With the extension, Michele will have been playing the role for just three days short of a year. But even once it’s closed, we will still have the cavalcade of talk-show appearances Michele has made in her year in the role.
This post has been updated.