You Can’t Rain on Lea Michele’s Parade at ‘Funny Girl’

You Can’t Rain on Lea Michele’s Parade at ‘Funny Girl’

You Can’t Rain on Lea Michele’s Parade at ‘Funny Girl’

NEW YORK — Lea Michele was 21 when she first saw ‘Funny Girl’. She starred on Broadway in “Spring Awakening,” but all was not well in her personal life.

“I had just been through a terrible breakup,” she recalls. “I didn’t care what happened to me in my career. I was so heartbroken and I couldn’t believe I had to pick myself up and go on stage every night.”

Michael Mayer, her “Spring Awakening” director, noticed an abandoned Michele and wrote a special theater cure for him: a big dose of Barbra Streisand as vaudeville comedian Fanny Brice in the movie musical “Funny Girl.” It was the story of a woman who refused to be carried away by a man.

That did the trick: “I fell in love with it. And I fell in love with the story and I fell in love with the music. And of course Barbara.” Michele would go on to star in “Glee,” where she would sing songs from “Funny Girl” and also serenade Streisand at a tribute with a “Funny Girl” song.

Michele, now 36, steps into the role that made Streisand famous by taking over the role of Fanny from Beanie Feldstein in the show’s first revival on Broadway, with Mayer once again being her director. It’s a dream come true, but it’s also made waves.

The high-profile casting change rocked the Broadway community this summer, with Feldstein leaving early after Michele was announced, giving the impression that it was tense backstage at best. Michele noted that one actor replacing another on Broadway is nothing new.

“People leave shows and people come into shows. I think the media is really drawn to drama and especially to pitting women against each other, which I think is such a shame,” said Michele. “The only thing I can say for me is how grateful I am to be with such a person.” n open arms I’ve been accepted into what I know it’s been a lot of different changes.”

Michele praised Feldstein – “I think Beanie was fantastic” – as well as her understudy, Julie Benko, who will be playing Thursday performances – and threw herself into rehearsals. For someone who knows the musical so well, even Michele was stunned to realize how much work she has to do.

“I think I potentially had an expectation that I would just get in here and everything would be super easy,” she said. “But then there are also other parts where I had to take the car and completely tear it down and remove all the nuts and bolts and then look at everything, which is extremely scary because you’re like, ‘Wait a minute, about I have two weeks to go. How am I going to put this car back together again and then drive it across the country at high speed?’”

Fanny, to be fair, is one of the more difficult musical theater roles to cast, requiring both a set of pipes, some physical comedy skills and a spunky charm, perhaps why it took so long to revive it on the biggest theater stage since Streisand starred on Broadway in 1964 and then won an Oscar in the 1968 film version. It has the songs “People” and “Don’t Rain on My Parade.”

“I’ve always wanted to play this role. But I know I couldn’t have played it at any other time in my life. I think it’s the experiences. It’s what I’ve been through in my life,” Michele said, citing marriage and motherhood as deepening her approach.

Broadway veteran Ramin Karimloo, who plays Brice’s love interest in “Funny Girl,” worked with Feldstein and said Michele is bringing another Fanny to the show — not better, just different.

“It just feels like shame for wealth. I had one version and now I have this version,” he said. “There’s a new injection of life and another life is coming in. And that’s what gets me excited.”

Michele making her debut on Tuesday isn’t the only casting change. Four-time Tony Award nominee Tovah Feldshuh will replace Emmy winner Jane Lynch as Fanny’s mother.

It’s also a notable moment for Feldshuh, as she remembers seeing Streisand play the part live on Broadway in 1964. said.

“This is Lea’s karma,” Feldshuh added. “This has been marinating in her since ‘Glee’ and the rollercoaster ride the show took, for better or for worse – for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health – it never made it stop. And it has now come through another tunnel And hopefully the public will continue to enjoy it.”

The replacement is another step toward respectability for Michele after former “Glee” castmates in 2020 accused the actor of behavior interpreted as racist and bullying. Though she couldn’t recall a specific incident, Michele blamed her privilege and “immaturity.”

Another person encouraging the Broadway changes is Jared Grimes, who earned a Tony Award nomination as a lead actor in a musical. He said he saw Michele “grab the role by the horns”.

“It was like watching someone who had been preparing for this role in this project all her life. It was very instinctive. It was really exciting to watch,” he says. “She didn’t leave any meat on the bone.

“I was like, ‘Okay, cool. We’re bringing in some heavyweights and it’s time to just have more fun in a different way.’”

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Mark Kennedy is on http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits

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