Why everyone is freaking out about Lea Michele replacing Beanie Feldstein in 'Funny Girl' on Broadway

·8 min read
A side-by-side image of Beanie Feldstein in a sparkly black dress, left; Right, Lea Michele smiles in an off-the-shoulder black gown.
Beanie Feldstein and Lea Michele.Bruce Glikas/WireIMage; Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions
  • Broadway musical "Funny Girl" recently announced that Lea Michele would be taking over the lead role come fall.

  • Beanie Feldstein currently stars, but an Instagram post led some to believe that she was forced out.

  • Here's a complete timeline of the drama unfolding behind the scenes at the hit musical.

April 24, 2022: "Funny Girl," starring Beanie Feldstein as Fanny Brice, officially opens on Broadway.

Beanie Feldstein, in a sparkling red gown, smiles onstage with arms outstretched during the curtain call for "Funny Girl" in March 2022.
Beanie Feldstein during a preview curtain call for "Funny Girl" in late March 2022.Bruce Glikas/WireImage

The "Booksmart" actress stars in the musical as Fanny Brice, an aspiring vaudeville performer who eventually becomes a hit sensation with the Ziegfeld Follies in early 20th-century New York. Barbra Streisand originated the role during the show's first Broadway run.

Despite Feldstein's lifelong passion for the role (she previously told Jimmy Fallon she threw a "Funny Girl"-themed birthday party when she was 3), some reviews of her performance in the iconic musical were less than stellar.

Critics took issue with her voice (Helen Shaw of Vulture, for instance, said that Feldstein's "unpleasant" singing was "simply not a sound you expect to hear on Broadway"), as well as her childlike demeanor throughout much of the show.

The negative reviews were so pervasive that Gawker even published an article referring to Feldstein as "Beanie Flopstein."

But some people on social media suggested that the criticism of Feldstein was partly due to fatphobia, and not just what some felt was a lackluster performance.

June 15, 2022: A post on the musical's Twitter page revealed that Feldstein was set to leave the role in September.

Ramin Karimloo, in a tuxedo, and Beanie Feldstein, in a sparkly red dress, take a bow during the curtain call for a preview performance of the Broadway musical "Funny Girl."
Ramin Karimloo and Beanie Feldstein during a preview curtain call for "Funny Girl."Bruce Glikas/WireImage

After becoming ill with COVID-19 about a month ago, Feldstein took a break from performing. However, on June 15, both Feldstein and the Twitter page for "Funny Girl" announced that the "Ladybird" actress was returning to the stage as Brice — but only until September 25. Jane Lynch, who plays Brice's mother in the musical, was also revealed to be leaving on the same date.

"I'll never be able to find the words that could even begin to explain what the experience has been to me," Feldstein wrote in an emotional Instagram post, adding: "I gave and will continue to give this show all of me."

Late June 2022: Lea Michele is officially tapped to play Fanny after Feldstein departs.

Lea Michele, in an off-the-shoulder black gown with cut-outs, smiles while posing on the red carpet at the 2022 Tony Awards.
Lea Michele at the 2022 Tony Awards.Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions

According to a recent report by the Daily Beast, Michele (who starred in the original Broadway production of "Spring Awakening" and on the hit musical television show "Glee") committed to playing the role of Brice sometime during the week of June 20.

An anonymous source at the musical told the Daily Beast that Michele had reached out to producers individually to express her interest in "Funny Girl" and said she was available to take over for Feldstein.

But another source emphasized that Michele's representatives and "Funny Girl" producers didn't officially discuss the "Glee" star's involvement in the musical until after Feldstein announced she would be leaving in September.

The first source even told the Daily Beast that "the show was dying" due to Feldstein's casting, and that they wanted to "get rid of Beanie and get Lea in as soon as possible," despite pushback from others involved in the production.

June 30, 2022: A Gawker article is published leaking the news of Michele's casting.

Lea Michele, in a green strapless dress and diamond jewelry, smiles while posing on the red carpet.
Lea Michele in 2022.Steve Granitz/FilmMagic

In the article, Gawker reported that Michele was "set to take over the role of Fanny Brice in 'Funny Girl' on Broadway September 30." Neither the show nor Michele had made an official announcement at that time, although Michele had reportedly already signed a contract.

According to the Daily Beast's source, the Gawker article caused "great upset" to Feldstein — so much so that producers, who'd previously been able to speak with the actress face-to-face, were then told to communicate through her representatives only.

"As soon as the Gawker story appeared about Lea, it got very contentious. She stopped speaking," the source told the Daily Beast of Feldstein's reaction to the casting news. "Everything went downhill very quickly after that."

Michele's desire to play Brice in a Broadway production of "Funny Girl" has been something of an open secret in Hollywood for several years.

She performed many of the musical's songs during her time on "Glee" and revealed in subsequent interviews that the show's creator Ryan Murphy even had the rights to "Funny Girl" and was considering bringing it back to Broadway, with Michele as Brice (Murphy's project eventually lost steam).

July 10, 2022: Feldstein causes an uproar on social media after she announces that she's leaving the show much earlier than expected.

Beanie Feldstein attends the 2021 Emmy Awards.
Beanie Feldstein attends the 2021 Emmy Awards.Rich Fury/Getty Images

"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's post began. "Once the production decided to take the show in a different direction, I made the extremely difficult decision to step away sooner than anticipated."

After thanking the cast and crew of "Funny Girl," Feldstein concluded her statement by saying, "I hope you to continue to join them on Henry Street after I depart on July 31st."

July 11, 2022: The musical officially confirms that Michele will, in fact, be replacing Feldstein.

Rachel Berry stands onstage in a blue sailor dress costume with her arms outstretched in this still from a season five episode of Fox's "Glee."
Rachel Berry (Lea Michele) performs onstage as Fanny Brice in the fifth season of "Glee."FOX Image Collection via Getty Images

Following Feldstein's bombshell announcement, social media was filled with people speculating just why the actress had suddenly decided to leave much sooner than her previously-announced date.

Some wondered if Feldstein was upset that Michele, who'd previously been accused by several of her "Glee" costars of being  "unpleasant" and committing "racist" microaggressions, was tapped as her replacement. Others speculated that Feldstein was simply eager to depart after the negative reviews.

On Monday, the "Funny Girl" social-media pages finally announced that Michele would be replacing Feldstein as Brice starting on September 6.

Feldstein's understudy Julie Benko, however, will be playing the role from the end of July, when Feldstein departs, until Michele takes over, according to the Daily Beast. Per the publication, Benko will stay on as understudy and continue to perform as the lead every Thursday after that.

Adding to the uproar was the fact that Jane Lynch, who plays Mrs. Brice (and famously starred as Sue Sylvester opposite Michele on "Glee"), was also revealed to be leaving the musical on September 4, ahead of Michele's start date. Tovah Feldshuh, the show's socials announced, would be taking over the role for Lynch, who was originally scheduled to depart on September 25 with Feldstein before moving up her own departure date.

July 12, 2022: Lynch celebrated Michele's casting in "Funny Girl."

Lea Michele and Jane Lynch
Lea Michele (left) and Jane Lynch in 2016.Stefanie Keenan/Getty Images for ELLE

In an interview with Deadline, Lynch seemingly shut down any speculation that her early departure from the show was because she didn't want to work with her "Glee" costar again.

In fact, Lynch revealed, she and Michele "have been in touch" about the situation.

"You know, it was just a really strong idea to have Feldshuh and Lea premiere together. That's the only reason," Lynch said of her exit from "Funny Girl" prior to Michele joining the show.

"I adore her," the "Only Murders in the Building" star continued. "She's just going to take this show and make it her own. I'm so glad she's getting the opportunity in real life to do the show and not just on 'Glee.'"

That same day, the Daily Beast's in-depth report about the drama was published, revealing, among other things, how producers dealt with Feldstein's bad reviews, and how they handled the "Booksmart" star's sudden departure from the show.

Representatives for Michele and Feldstein didn't immediately respond to Insider's requests for comment.

A representative for "Funny Girl" directed Insider to a statement shared with People, in which producers said they "were not blindsided by Beanie's social post," and that the star's exit had nothing to do with lackluster reviews.

"The producers decided to take the show in a different direction and end Beanie's contract on September 25th, 6 months earlier than anticipated," the statement read.

It continued: "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."

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