Two very different kinds of scandals have hit Broadway in recent days involving the musicals “Funny Girl” and “Paradise Square” (which played its final performance on Sunday).
The “Funny Girl” scandal is one of old-fashioned backstage drama and second-hand gossip that has received an unusually large amount of media attention.
I’ll admit it: the situation has been strangely intriguing and engrossing. How exactly did Beanie Feldstein (who was perfectly fine in a small comic role in the 2016 revival of “Hello, Dolly!”) win the role of Fanny Brice (originated by no less than Barbra Streisand), which demands powerhouse belting in addition to the ability to play broad comedy and sentimental romance?
Following the harsh internet chatter and reviews and lack of Tony nominations, it was announced last month that Feldstein would exit the show in September, which quickly led to speculation that Lea Michele (who seemed destined to play Fanny Brice a decade ago during her “Glee” days) would take over the role.
Last week, Feldstein posted on social media that she was leaving two months earlier than previously planned due to a supposed decision on the part of the production to “take the show in a different direction.” Less than 24 hours later, Michele was officially confirmed as the new Fanny.
Since then, there have been competing reports about whether or not the producers had advance notice of Feldstein’s social media post. To make matters even more awkward, Feldstein was also out of the show over the weekend due to illness, leaving Fanny to be played by Julie Benko (who will take over the role full-time between Feldstein’s exit and Michele’s arrival).
By comparison, the “Paradise Square” scandal is far more serious and involves the alleged exploitation of theater artists. It deserves greater scrutiny and media attention.
Right after it was announced that the show (which struggled at the box office since starting previews) would close on Sunday, news spread that multiple lawsuits have been filed against the show’s producers for nonpayment of fees and that direct deposit payments to the actors were delayed on Thursday. The show also experienced issues with missed payments during rehearsals.
By the end of the week, the actors wrote to their union, Actors’ Equity Association, to request that producer Garth Drabinsky be replaced on on Equity’s “Do Not Work” list “due to outstanding payments and benefits and a continued pattern of abuse and neglect that created an unsafe and toxic work environment,” as per The Hollywood Reporter. In response, Equity has advised that it does plan to place Drabinsky on the “Do Not Work” list, which would effectively prevent him from being able to work with unionized actors in the future.
Drabinsky was a major Broadway producer of the 1990s who was subsequently convicted of fraud and sentenced to prison. How exactly Drabinsky was able to make it back to Broadway with “Paradise Square” is a far more important and chilling question than how Feldstein got cast and replaced as Fanny in “Funny Girl.”