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The Funny Girl drama continues: Lea Michele to miss performances after testing positive for Covid


By Sarah Gill
14th Sep 2022
The Funny Girl drama continues: Lea Michele to miss performances after testing positive for Covid

In an incredibly meta turn of events, Lea Michele took on the leading role of Fanny Brice in Funny Girl on Broadway, and now, just a week after her run began, she's tested positive for COVID-19.

All die-hard Glee fans out there will know that Rachel Berry’s lifelong dream was to embody the role of Fanny Brice in Funny Girl. Inspired by Lea Michele’s very own ambitions, this plotline spanned all six seasons of the show, culminating in her season five casting on the Broadway revival.

They say that art imitates life, but it seems like the opposite is the case for Ms Michele, as she stepped into the shoes of Barbra Streisand and replaced Beanie Feldstein as the show’s leading lady on 6 September.

Taking to Instagram, she wrote: “A dream come true is an understatement. I’m so incredibly honored to join this amazing cast and production and return to the stage playing Fanny Brice on Broadway. See you September 6th.”

However, it’s all coming to a bit of a standstill for Michele as she took to Instagram to share the news that she had tested positive for COVID-19. “Unfortunately, I have officially tested positive for COVID. In following production protocol I cannot return to the theater for 10 days,” she wrote. “Thankfully staying home today and catching this early protected so many members of our company from being exposed.”

Set to return to the stage on 20 September, standby Julie Benko will return to the role of Fanny Brice until Lea Michele has recovered and is ready to perform once again. This change in casting isn’t the first shakeup the Broadway show has received. Let’s dive into the drama…

The casting change garnered quite a bit of attention online, transcending the theatre realm and making headlines throughout the entertainment industry. Back in August, it was announced that Beanie Feldstein — known for her roles in Book Smart and How to Build a Girl — would take on the role in the first ever Broadway revival of the 1964 original.

In a release issued at the time, Feldstein said: “The first time I played Fanny Brice was at my third birthday party, in a head-to-toe leopard print outfit my mom made for me. So, it’s safe to say that stepping into this iconic role, on Broadway and not in my family’s backyard, is truly my lifelong dream come true.”

Beginning with previews this past March before officially opening in April, reviews were not looking good. 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.” The show was similarly snubbed by the Tony Awards, receiving just one nomination for Jared Grimes’ supporting role. Tickets weren’t selling and people weren’t happy, and so began the behind the scenes drama.

Mere months later, Feldstein announced that should would be stepping away from the project because “the production decided to take the show in a different direction,” six months before her contract was due to end. Less than a day later, Michele was officially announced as the new lead.

However, a senior show source told the Daily Beast that Michele was officially signed on to play Brice “a week and a half” after this year’s Tony Awards. The unnamed source also revealed that this revelation was a source of great upset to Feldstein, noting that “[they] were told [they] could not speak to her, and to go through her reps. That was the first negative shift. Everything went downhill very quickly after that.”

“The reviews affected Beanie big-time,” the source said. “I don’t think we cared for her enough in that regard. It was her first big role on Broadway carrying the show.”

That’s not the only Glee-related Funny Girl casting change though, as Jane Lynch (Sue Sylvestor) has also announced that she will be leaving the production earlier , and has been replaced by four-time Tony Award nominee Tovah Feldshuh as Mrs Brice.

In an incredibly un-Sue Sylvestor move, Lynch has actually welcomed the news of Michele’s casting in an interview with Deadline, remarking that “it was just a really strong idea to have Feldshuh and Lea premiere together. That’s the only reason [we won’t appear together]. I adore her … She’s just going to take this show and make it her own.”

She added: “I’m so glad she’s getting the opportunity in real life to do the show and not just on Glee.”

 

Since Lea Michele’s casting was announced, ticket sales — and prices — have rapidly increased. However, while this decision has been praised from a financially shrewd perspective, it has also been thoroughly critiqued.

In June 2020, former castmate Samantha Marie Ware (who played Jane Hayward in season six) called Michele out on Twitter, making allegations that she was guilty of problematic behaviour on set.

She wrote that Michele made her first television gig a “living hell”, and was guilty of a number of “traumatic microaggressions that made [her] question a career in Hollywood.” After the news broke, Ware tweeted: “Yes, I’m online today. Yes, I see y’all. Yes, I care. Yes, I’m affected. Yes, I’m human. Yes, I’m Black. Yes, I was abused. Yes, my dreams were tainted. Yes, Broadway upholds whiteness. Yes, Hollywood does the same. Yes, silence is complicity. Yes, I’m loud. Yes, I’d do it again.”

Ware also retweeted a message that read: “This industry will reward bad behaviour time and time again. its good to know that you all can only identify abusers when its a cis yt female getting abused. this industry cares not about black people and our experiences within it.”