Well, folks, it’s official: “Glee” actress Lea Michele is replacing Beanie Feldstein as Fanny Brice in the revival of “Funny Girl” on Broadway.
It’s been a long time coming. After the first reviews of “Funny Girl” came out in April critiquing Beanie’s voice and her performance, the show didn’t sell well, and I could see the way the wind was blowing. It wasn’t so much that the reviews were lukewarm at best — as someone who hasn’t seen the production but has heard Beanie’s singing voice, I can understand that she might not have the vocal power to capture the Barbra Streisand-level magic that the audience craves. It’s that the reviews felt cruel and pointed.
“To rip the bandage off quickly: Feldstein is not stupendous,” NYT critic Jesse Green wrote, seemingly couching his criticisms only to go on and write, “Still, you can’t blame Feldstein for the show’s problems; that would be like blaming the clown for the elephants.”
That would be like blaming the clown for the elephants.
As a fellow queer, fat Jewish person, I remember reading that and feeling the punch to the gut.
To me, Beanie as Fanny Brice not only represented the revival — and reinvigoration — of a historically Jewish character by a proudly Jewish actress; it also made me feel like the entertainment industry was finally saying that fat performers deserve to be seen and taken seriously. Babs was thin and Beanie is zaftig, but they both deserved to play Fanny. To have a New York Times culture reporter call her a clown felt like an intentional jab at her size — as if to say yes, she is a fat actress and no, her portrayal isn’t worth serious consideration.
Unfortunately, this was only the first of many more punches to come.
Clearly the Tony voters agreed with Green’s assessment, snubbing her for a Best Actress nomination. To be clear, I don’t believe that any actor is entitled to an award, nor do I think an award should be given purely due to identity politics. But I do find it hard to believe that an actress of Beanie’s caliber would not even receive a nod for doing the work to bring back one of Broadway‘s most iconic roles.
A few weeks later, the Funny Girl social media team made the inevitable announcement that Beanie would be leaving in September. Then, just last night, Beanie took a bit of control back, herself announcing that she would be leaving the production even earlier than expected, on July 31.
“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 a true honor,” Beanie wrote in a note posted to her Instagram.
Going on, she partially explained her decision to leave early, writing, “Once the production decided to take the show in a different direction, I made the extremely difficult decision to step away sooner than anticipated.”
Instead of posting a farewell or even acknowledgment of this, the “Funny Girl” Instagram Twitter account touted a casting announcement. Then, today, they announced that Lea Michele would be taking over the role of Fanny Brice. It’s a casting choice that I fully expected, as Lea Michele has made her wish to play Fanny Brice clear since her “Glee” days, but it stings nonetheless.
Emmy Award-nominee LEA MICHELE and Tony Award-nominee TOVAH FELDSHUH join #FUNNYGIRL beginning September 6!
Don’t miss Beanie Feldstein until July 31 only, followed by @JujujulieBee through September 4.
See you at the August Wilson, gorgeous!⭐️ pic.twitter.com/bvqArWoMJa
— Funny Girl on Broadway (@FunnyGirlBwy) July 11, 2022
As you can see, they’ve already removed Beanie’s face from the logo. I wonder if they’ve already removed her from the marquee at the August Wilson Theater.
For now, we are only left to speculate what “different direction” “Funny Girl” will take. I think it might have something to do with the production’s willingness to bow to critique (and ticket sales) and recast their lead, replacing a fat, queer, Jewish actress whose authenticity will always shine through with a thin actress who, despite having some Jewish ancestry, does not appear to identify as Jewish and has been accused of treating co-workers quite poorly indeed.
One small saving grace of the casting announcement was that Tovah Feldshuh, the Jewish actress who originated the role of “Yentl” on Broadway, has been cast as Mrs. Brice. Even so, I feel for Beanie.
Beanie Feldstein is an actress who leads with her whole heart and identity on her sleeve. Even as someone who is comfortable in their own fat, queer and Jewish identity, it’s hard for me to not feel that what’s happened with “Funny Girl” is a personalized rejection of everything Beanie brings to the role, and everything she is.
I’ll say once again: I think it’s possible that Beanie was underwhelming as Fanny Brice. But I don’t think that warranted the way she’s been treated.
She absolutely deserved better.