Meanwhile on Broadway: Funny Girl has more plot twists than Agatha Christie
Broadway is back!
As 2022 draws to a close, TheaterMania looks back on some of the most notable stories of the year.
"I don't know the woman whatsoever."
It was the shot heard 'round the (Broadway-adjacent) world — a statement that reverberates through time and is destined to be the foreboding cold open to Ryan Murphy's future miniseries about the 2022 revival of Funny Girl.
Flash back to the fall of 2021 when beloved Lady Bird and Booksmart star Beanie Feldstein had just been announced as Broadway's first Fanny Brice since Barbra Streisand put her stamp on the role 58 years prior. Lea Michele — the recently canceled Glee alum who had very publicly and extensively campaigned for the role, but was in celebrity time out for alleged bullying behavior — instantly began trending on Twitter. Feldstein was in the midst of promoting Murphy's miniseries Impeachment, and in an interview with professional pot stirrer Andy Cohen, was asked about Michele's connection to Funny Girl…to which Feldstein replied with her instantly viral words of biting apathy. The internet celebrated this little piece of karmic retribution. Good guys don't always finish last. "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice."
Oh how naïve we all were.
Cut to Funny Girl's Broadway opening in spring 2022 when negative reviews parlayed into heated online discourse. Feldstein apologists praised her for a charming interpretation of the role while hard-liners stood firm in their demand for Streisand-level vocals. Sides were chosen. Families were torn apart (presumably). Suddenly, Broadway's new hero was none other than superstar understudy Julie Benko, who became Funny Girl's must-see Fanny — much to the dismay of a production that would have liked its originally intended star to be the box office draw (#FannyBenko).
By June — the same month as a Tony Awards ceremony that suspiciously featured Lea Michele and the cast of her 13-years-closed musical — lagging ticket sales and rumors of behind-the-scenes strife finally brought the news that Feldstein (along with her co-star Jane Lynch) would be departing the cast at the end of September. Rumors of Michele immediately began swirling, theater Twitter was doing its best impression of Bye Bye Birdie's "Telephone Hour," and Fanny-Gate was in full swing.
The next bomb dropped on July 10 when Feldstein moved up her final performance to the end of the month, citing the show's "different direction" for her (extra-)early departure. The production then teased a casting announcement for the next day, causing people who have never even heard of the Ziegfeld Follies to sit by their Twitter feeds in rapt anticipation. And just like that, it was official. Lea Michele was coming back to Broadway on September 6 (alongside Tovah Feldshuh) and already selling out the August Wilson Theatre.
Now, as we approach the denouement of this Broadway-themed episode of The Twilight Zone, we find ourselves in a full-fledged Lea-ssance. Rave reviews, talk show appearances, and headlining gigs at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade have warmly welcomed her back to the stage, not to mention the unprecedented honor of recording the production's cast album (a New Broadway Cast Recording, not to be confused with an Original Broadway Cast Recording). It's been one unpredictable year in the world of Funny Girl — and aside from bolstering the validity of every suspect plot point in Smash, let it be an argument for the true power of manifestation…or perhaps just proof that we are all living in a simulation of Lea Michele's design.