By Andrew Lapin
Lea Michele will replace Beanie Feldstein as the lead of Broadway’s revival of the extremely Jewish musical “Funny Girl,” with Jewish Broadway legend Tovah Feldshuh stepping into a key supporting role.
Michele and Feldshuh’s first performance will be Sept. 6. Feldstein announced Sunday she would be leaving the Broadway show July 31, earlier than originally planned. Standby Julie Benko will take over the role until Michele makes her debut.
“A dream come true is an understatement,” Michele said in an Instagram post Monday, the same day the casting was announced.
A “Glee” star and member of the original Broadway cast of “Spring Awakening,” Michele was rumored for months to be Feldstein’s replacement. Michele has made no secret of her admiration for “Funny Girl” and the role of pioneering Jewish vaudevillian Fanny Brice, whose story is chronicled in the 1964 musical. She sang a song from the show in a 2011 tribute to original star Barbra Streisand, whom Michele has said she considers her role model. Her character on “Glee,” Rachel Berry, even starred in the show-within-a-show’s Broadway revival of “Funny Girl.” (Michele performed the show’s signature number, “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” on live “Glee” tours.)
Michele, who learned about her Sephardic Jewish ancestry on a 2016 reality show, will be joined in the cast by Feldshuh, who will replace another “Glee” star, Jane Lynch, in the role of Fanny’s mother. Feldshuh is a Broadway veteran who has played an assortment of Jewish roles on stage and screen, including Yentl in “Yentl,” Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir in “Golda’s Balcony,” sexologist Dr. Ruth Weistheimer in “Becoming Dr. Ruth” and roles in works including the TV miniseries “Holocaust” and the LBGT+ Jewish romcom “Kissing Jessica Stein.”
“My Judaism is like a third leg that goes down deep in the earth,” Feldshuh once told Jewish Telegraphic Agency sister publication Kveller.
The revival of “Funny Girl,” the first on Broadway since Streisand originated the role, debuted in April amid sky-high expectations for Feldstein as the headliner. The “Booksmart” and “Lady Bird” star was open about how her Jewish identity informed her desire to do the role, telling the New York Jewish Week that “any Jewish woman who wants to be funny and perform and sing owes something to Fanny Brice.”
But it was a rocky road on Broadway for Feldstein, as tepid reviews for both her performance and the Harvey Fierstein-reimagined show as a whole rained on her parade. She was also snubbed for a Tony award. In her exit announcement, she suggested that she was leaving early because the revival would be undergoing major changes.
“Playing Fanny Brice on Broadway has been a lifelong dream of mine, and doing so for the last few months has been a great joy and true honor,” Feldstein wrote. “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’s not all bad news for Feldstein, though: On social media last month, she announced that she is engaged to longtime girlfriend Bonnie Chance Roberts. Actor Jonah Hill (Feldstein’s brother) and another Jewish actor, Ben Platt (her longtime friend), were present for the occasion.