Things have been awkward for “Funny Girl.” The Broadway revival of the 1964 musical comedy opened in April to less-than-enthusiastic reviews, with a lot of criticism directed at Beanie Feldstein (who was always an unexpected pick to play Fanny Brice, the role originated by Barbra Streisand) for lacking the herculean vocal chops demanded by the score and overplaying the comedy at the expense of the romance.
Since opening night, Feldstein has regularly been out of the show, leaving the role of Fanny to be played by her standby, Julie Benko, who has been getting great word of mouth. (It is regrettable that the producers of “Funny Girl” have not celebrated Benko, as the producers of “The Music Man” did last week when Max Clayton stepped in as Harold Hill for Hugh Jackman.)
Feldstein was not nominated for a Tony Award for her performance. Not only that, the revival only received a single Tony Award on behalf of Jared Grimes for Best Featured Actor in a Musical. Not surprisingly, the cast of “Funny Girl” did not perform during the Tony Awards broadcast and the production was essentially ignored, leaving the impression that “Company” was the only musical revival of the season.
When the reviews came out on opening night, some in internet chat rooms wondered whether the revival would quickly shutter. However, in spite of everything, the production has been performing rather well at the box office, grossing more than $1 million a week, even during Feldstein’s absences. Clearly, theatergoers remember “Funny Girl” (which has not previously been revived on Broadway) and there is a demand for it.
Last week, the production tweeted that Feldstein would be back in the show on June 16 – and then revealed that Feldstein and Jane Lynch (who plays Fanny’s mother, Mrs. Brice) will exit the show on Sept. 25 and asked us to “stay tuned additional casting news.”
So, who will be the new Fanny Brice?
Benko may inherit the role, but the producers probably want a star (assuming they can land one, as taking over a role is not as glamorous as originating one, even in the context of a revival). Some actresses may also be wary of entering the show in light of the harsh reception that Feldstein received.
The obvious “star” candidate is Lea Michele, who made no secret of her desire to play Fanny Brice while appearing on the TV show “Glee.” Michele even performed “Don’t Rain On My Parade” at the 2010 Tony Awards and starred in a fictional Broadway revival of “Funny Girl” on “Glee.” It is also worth noting that Michael Mayer, who directed “Funny Girl,” previously directed Michele in “Spring Awakening.”
Other possibilities include Idina Menzel (who was slated at one point to play Fanny in the current revival) and Sheridan Smith (the English actress who played Fanny when this production originated in London).
The role of Mrs. Brice might also lend itself to interesting casting, with a leading candidate being Rosie O’Donnell, who claimed in 2020 that she was set to play the part.
I, for one, am intrigued by the casting possibilities. With all due respect to Feldstein (who was terrific in the film “Booksmart” and the TV series “Impeachment”), she was miscast as Fanny. I don’t blame her, but rather the people who misguidedly cast her – and who have now received an opportunity to fix the show.