If you haven’t heard that Lea Michele is playing the role of Fanny Brice in Funny Girl on Broadway, then I don’t know what rock you’ve been living under. Broadway news rarely transcends the theater world, but this announcement has blown up the entertainment news cycle as real life and television have become one. For six seasons of Glee, audiences watched Rachel Berry idolize and eventually play the titular role of Fanny Brice on Broadway in a plot line inspired by Michele’s real desire for the part. Beginning September 6th, those same audiences can watch Lea Michele become Fanny Brice IRL. It’s all very meta.
Michele wrote of the news on Instagram, “A dream come true is an understatement,” but for some involved in the show’s production, the whole thing has been a nightmare. As a self-proclaimed theater-kid-who-can’t-sing and a Lea Michele fanatic, I have been following this chaos since the moment the revival was announced. But for those whose hobbies do not include scrolling through theater Twitter for hours, here’s the tea that’s tearing through midtown Manhattan.
This dramatic tale could begin in the early 2000s, but the easiest place to start would be the announcement of the Funny Girl revival starring Beanie Feldstein this past August. The musical, which tells the story of Jewish actress Fanny Brice’s journey to fame, originally starred Barbra Streisand in the 1964 Broadway production and 1968 film. Feldstein, known for her performance as Monica Lewinsky in American Crime Story: Impeachment in addition to significant roles in Lady Bird, Booksmart, and Hello, Dolly! on Broadway, said in a statement that her casting was a “lifelong dream come true”.
As Feldstein was celebrating her new job, the internet only thought of one person: Lea Michele. She has made her desire to play Fanny Brice obvious for the past 13 years, singing several songs from Funny Girl and idolizing Barbra Streisand while playing Rachel Berry on Glee; performing the musical’s iconic tune “Don’t Rain on My Parade” at the 2012 Tony Awards; honoring Streisand at various events; and even writing about her love for both Babs and Funny Girl in her book, Brunette Ambition. Given this connection, Michelle was trending on Twitter the day Beanie Feldstein’s casting was announced with users either laughing or crying at Michele’s snub.
The Funny Girl revival opened on Broadway this April, and the reviews were harsh. The New York Times wrote that “You root for [Feldstein] to raise the roof, but she only bumps against it a little. Her voice, though solid and sweet and clear, is not well suited to the music.” For an iconic lead role with such a famous predecessor, Feldstein had big shoes to fill. To top it all off, Funny Girl was essentially shut out of the Tony Awards. It received a singular Tony nomination for supporting actor Jared Grimes’ performance while other Broadway revivals received between five and ten. Beanie was also missing performances, and when she was there, she was singing to an audience barely over half full.
At this point, everything at Funny Girl is heading downhill. Basically no Tony nominations, bad reviews, and low ticket sales. At the same time, something interesting is occurring elsewhere: Lea Michele is rebranding and reviving. She starred in the anniversary performance, documentary, and Tony Awards number celebrating the 15th anniversary of Spring Awakening, the show that brought her big break. Michele is also embarking on a small solo tour throughout the country this month. But why exactly do I call this a comeback? In June 2020, Michele received backlash over allegations of problematic behavior on set. After she Tweeted in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, Glee castmate Samantha Ware called out her toxic on-set behavior. This sparked several diva-like accusations against Michele from co-workers. Michele later apologized and then focused attention on the birth of her first baby.
So, what happened next? On June 15th, Feldstein announced she would be stepping away from Funny Girl in mid-September, six months before her contract was supposed to end. Everyone — well, mostly myself and theater Twitter — started speculating that Lea Michele would take her place. A week later, Gawker dropped a bombshell article reporting that an inside source confirmed the replacement rumors. Adding to the chaos, Michele and Feldstein share an agent.
For about a month after the first chaotic Funny Girl news cycle, everything seemed relatively calm. That all changed last week when Beanie posted a new statement saying she would actually be departing the role on July 31 after “the production decided to take the show in a different direction.” Less than 24 hours later, Lea Michele was officially revealed as Broadway’s new Fanny Brice.
The casting announcement elicited mixed reactions. On one hand, cast members, including Jane Lynch, congratulated Michele on the role. While on the other, many are taking to social media to lament the decision, noting that Michele should be held accountable for her past behaviors. Samantha Ware, who initially accused Michele of bullying, tweeted that “silence is complicity” after the news broke. The strongest reaction, though, came from audience members as ticket prices skyrocketed. Funny Girl is now the number one event on ticket vendor SeatGeek’s platform with costs ranging from $600 to $2,500. Meanwhile, tickets cost an average of $69 for the remainder of Feldstein’s run.
Michele will begin her job on September 6th with current standby Julie Benko taking on the role until then and every Thursday after. Emmy and Tony nominee Tovah Feldshuh will also replace Jane Lynch as Mrs. Brice (I know, Gleeks, it would have been a dream to have Rachel and Sue together on stage again).
And that’s what you missed on Glee.
Images: Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images for alice + olivia; Bruce Glikas/WireImage
With everything going on in the world right now, it feels like a weird time to focus on whatever celebrities are doing. The Forbes takedown of Kylie Jenner only happened last Friday, but it feels like it was six months ago. But even amidst all the turmoil, there are still some noteworthy things happening in the celeb world. We’ve seen many stars using their massive platforms to spread valuable information, and even joining the protests, but not all of the celebs are doing amazing right now. Case in point: Lea Michele, whose attempt to join the Black Lives Matter conversation led to a dragging that she definitely didn’t see coming.
On Friday, Lea Michele tweeted in support of the Justice for George Floyd movement, saying that his murder was not an isolated incident. While a tweet is a pretty low bar for getting involved here, there was nothing wrong with what Lea said, though some responded that a public financial contribution would mean a lot more.
But on Monday, things went left when Samantha Ware, who had a recurring role on the sixth season of Glee, entered the chat. She quoted Lea’s tweet in all caps, saying that Lea made her first TV job “a living hell.” Ware specifically recalled that Lea told everyone she would sh*t in Ware’s wig. According to Ware, this was just one of many “traumatic microaggressions that made me question a career in Hollywood.”
LMAO REMEMBER WHEN YOU MADE MY FIRST TELEVISON GIG A LIVING HELL?!?! CAUSE ILL NEVER FORGET. I BELIEVE YOU TOLD EVERYONE THAT IF TOU HAD THE OPPORTUNITY YOU WOULD “SHIT IN MY WIG!” AMONGST OTHER TRAUMATIC MICROAGRESSIONS THAT MADE ME QUESTION A CAREER IN HOLLYWOOD… https://t.co/RkcaMBmtDA
— SAMEYAAAAAA (@Sammie_Ware) June 2, 2020
I mean, DAMN. Lea Michele’s whole persona has always been kind of diva-ish, but this kind of behavior toward a costar is next level f*cked up. Aside from the general nastiness, making a comment like that about a black woman’s hair is inherently racist. While Ware referenced Michele’s micro-aggressions, many responded that this just sounds like aggression-aggression.
Samantha Ware’s tweet was pretty damning on its own, and it didn’t take long before many of Lea Michele’s other black cast mates started showing up to voice their support for Ware. Yvette Nicole Brown, who worked with Lea Michele on The Mayor, responded to Ware, saying “I felt every one of those capital letters.” Alex Newell, who starred in the later seasons of Glee, added that they “felt like claps.”
I felt every one of those capital letters. ✊🏾
— yvette nicole brown (@YNB) June 2, 2020
Alex Newell also tweeted several GIFs in response to Ware’s tweets—my personal favorite is this one:
— Alex Newell (@thealexnewell) June 2, 2020
And the reactions kept rolling in. Many people were eager to hear from the other original cast members on Glee, and while not all of them have chosen to get involved, we got some epic shade from Amber Riley. Amber played Mercedes on the show, and her and Lea Michele’s character were constantly at odds. Looks like that tension may have extended off-screen, judging by Amber’s GIF of herself sipping tea.
— Amber Patrice Riley (@MsAmberPRiley) June 2, 2020
While Amber Riley didn’t share any specific stories, or technically even comment on the situation, we all know what a sipping tea gif means when we see it. Additionally, OG cast member Kevin McHale seemed to confirm Ware’s story. He had previously responded “false” to another tweet about costar Chord Overstreet being a Republican, and when asked to clarify whether he meant the Lea Michele accusations were false, or just the Chord Overstreet thing, he said:
— Kevin McHale (@druidDUDE) June 2, 2020
Along with Lea Michele’s costars, many other people started sharing their negative experiences working with or meeting her. One woman who said she was an extra on Glee‘s first season shared a whole list of despicable behaviors, ranging from wasting everyone’s time with a tantrum, to calling the extras “cockroaches,” a term with a history of racist use.
Things I witnessed as background on one season of Glee:
1. Lea calling background cockroaches
2. Lea telling multiple crew members how to do their job
3. Lea having a tantrum over something and holding up filming for at least an extra hour.
— Sarah Kimball ⁷ (@spacecat90) June 3, 2020
After Samantha Ware’s initial tweet on Monday, the negative stories about Lea Michele gained momentum on Tuesday, and it was clear this wasn’t just going away. On Tuesday, HelloFresh tweeted that they were “disappointed to learn of the recent claims,” and ended their partnership with Lea Michele.
HelloFresh does not condone racism nor discrimination of any kind. We are disheartened and disappointed to learn of the recent claims concerning Lea Michele. We take this very seriously, and have ended our partnership with Lea Michele, effective immediately.
— HelloFresh US (@HelloFresh) June 2, 2020
With all the noise surrounding this story, it seemed like Lea had to say something eventually, and she posted a Notes App statement (my favorite kind) to her Instagram early Wednesday morning. Before diving in, big spoiler: it’s weak AF.
View this post on Instagram
First of all, not once does she apologize directly to anyone by name. Maybe she sent some private messages in addition to this one, but at the very least, she should’ve addressed Samantha Ware by name. Instead, she says that she doesn’t remember “ever making this specific statement,” and that she’s “never judged others by their background or color of their skin.” Rather than pretending that none of this ever happened, why not confront your past mistakes directly? It’s uncomfortable, but important.
Two different times in her post, Lea talks about how her behavior was “perceived” by those around her. This, my friends, is a total red flag in apology language. Lea posits that her “privileged position and perspective” may have caused her to be “perceived as insensitive or inappropriate at times,” but I call bullsh*t. She wasn’t “perceived” as insensitive, she WAS insensitive. Telling a black woman’s coworkers that you want to “sh*t in her wig” isn’t a matter of perception, and even suggesting that makes it clear that Lea Michele isn’t really ready to confront her own issues.
Lea talks about how she’s about to become a mother, and she wants to do better to be a role model for her child, which is great, sure. She says that she “listened to these criticisms” and is “learning,” but the very nature of her “apology” makes it seem like she hasn’t learned much yet. Will all of this lead to some major cancelation of Lea Michele? Maybe, but it’s not like her career is booming at this point anyway. More than anything, I hope she is able to look deeper and replace bullsh*t apologies and ~learning~ with actual, meaningful growth. If we can gain anything positive from this f*cked up time, it’s that we should all be putting in the work to be better allies, and Lea Michele clearly has plenty of work to do. She could start by accepting responsibility.
Images: DFree / Shutterstock.com; sammie_ware, YNB, thealexnewell, msamberpriley, druiddude, spacecat90, hellofresh / Twitter; leamichele / Instagram