Identifying fat phobia ever-present in Broadway’s Funny Girl
The year is 2009 and season one of Glee is airing on Fox. Lea Michele as Rachel Berry is singing “Don’t Rain on My Parade” at Sectionals. It’s an incredible performance. The New Directions win Sectionals.
The year is 2013. Glee is on season five. Lea Michele as Rachel Berry is cast as Fanny Brice in Funny Girl. She eventually decides to leave for a TV show despite it being her dream role.
The year is 2022. Glee ended some time ago. Lea Michele has seen many controversies from behind the scenes of the show. Funny Girl has been revived on Broadway. Lea Michele takes over the role of Fanny Brice in September of 2022.
But, let’s back up a little bit.
When the show opened on April 24, 2022, the lead role of Fanny Brice was played by Beanie Feldstein. Reviews of Feldstein’s performance were not great. The show was not performing very well at all, especially compared to Mean Girls the Musical which was at the August Wilson theatre before Funny Girl. Many people blamed this on Feldstein. They said her performance was not good and that her voice was not strong enough for the vocally demanding role of Fanny Brice. According to some, Feldstein missed several performances of the show.
When Feldstein announced she was leaving the show on Instagram, she said that “the production decided to take the show in a different direction,” which seems to suggest something happened behind the scenes.
Ironically, Jane Lynch, who played Mrs. Brice in Funny Girl alongside Feldstein, left at the same time. Lynch worked with Michele on Glee and was out of Funny Girl before she would have to work with Michele.
When Michele was announced to take over the role, people began talking about the Glee comparisons and bringing up old claims about working with her. An actress from Glee claimed that Michele was a bully and often said racial microaggressions. Several cast members agreed. They stated that Michele was rather mean and difficult to work with.
Since Michele has taken over the role of Fanny, a lot has changed over at Funny Girl. The show has started performing better and a lot of people have praised Michele’s performance as Brice. Some reviews state that Michele was meant to have the role over Feldstein.
One major change that people noticed was the costuming. Feldstein, who is plus-sized, wore the signature finale red dress with a straight neckline and long sleeves. In contrast, Michele’s has a completely different neckline and no sleeves. This sparked a conversation about fatphobia on Broadway that died out far too quickly.
Recently, it was announced that Funny Girl would be getting a cast recording album with Michele at the head. It’s not very common for cast albums to be recorded with replacement actors as opposed to the original cast.
Even though Michele may be vocally stronger than Feldstein, not every change was necessary. It was not necessary to change the finale dress. It was a stand-out decision from the producers at Funny Girl to make the album without Feldstein.
While we’re discussing Michele, we can’t ignore the rumour that she can’t read. Despite the rumour being around for years, there have only been steps taken recently to try and combat it, though they haven’t been very successful.
If there’s anything to be said about this, it’s that Julie Benko, Michele’s understudy, is absolutely incredible as Fanny Brice and should get a lot more credit for her amazing work, and that fatphobia is very present on Broadway and needs to be discussed more.