Glee star Lea Michele is set to make her debut as Fanny Brice in Broadway’s Funny Girl on Tuesday night, and the world is watching, with many rooting for her and others hoping to watch her fail.
It did not come as a surprise when Michele was cast in the show’s revival, as rumors about her debut came shortly after the show’s original star, Beanie Feldstein, announced she was “stepping away” from the role. Talk quickly circulated that Michele, whose character on Glee was obsessed with Funny Girl and wound up getting the role of Fanny Brice on Broadway in Season 5, would be taking over.
And with opening night just hours away, expectations for Michele’s performance are at their peak.
Adam Feldman, the National Theater and Dance Editor and chief theater critic at Time Out New York and president of the Drama Critics’ Circle, told Newsweek that he feels there will be a lot of mixed reviews regarding Michele’s performance.
“There’s so many different communities involved,” Feldman said. “Lea Michele has a huge fan community that obviously is going to be very excited to see her and will be rooting for her to do well. And then there’s this kind of internet […] community that in some ways seems to be rooting for her to fail. So that’s a strange place to be in as a performer.”
Michele has been the source of criticism and internet memes since the Glee days, after rumors that Michele can’t read or write began to surface. Many of her co-stars on Glee have also accused her of bullying.
“I think there’s an internet culture that is sort of a gossip culture and a vulturous circle that is entertaining for people to play with,” Feldman said. “But does that actually have much to do with how well she’ll do in the part? Not really. People who are attacking Lea Michele just seem to have other reasons.”
A Broadway insider echoed similar sentiments, telling Newsweek on the condition of anonymity, “The drama surrounding the casting of Fanny has been a major topic around water coolers in the theatre industry for weeks. Everyone is waiting to see how Lea Michele will do in the role. We know she can sing it because we’ve heard it on television, but her performance is not a sure thing, given her being cast as an ‘unattractive girl’ in a production that’s been highly criticized. There will be some people in the theatre tonight cheering for her and some hoping she crashes and burns.”
The source added that the theater’s “message boards should blow up around 10:30″ tonight.”
And Feldman added that while he personally hopes she’ll be great as Fanny Brice, Michele certainly has some big shoes to fill.
“I think it’s a little unfair to expect her to be at 100 percent on opening on her first performance, especially when so much of this process has been rushed,” Feldman said of the recasting process.
The show, which originally starred Barbra Streisand, hasn’t played on Broadway in 60 years because of Streisand’s powerful performance, and Feldman said that the shadow that both Feldstein and Michele have been in has already dampened the reviews.
“People are gonna have opinions about this role, and about how to play it and a lot of these people will simply come in thinking, ‘Well, no one can be Barbra.’ And it’s true that no one can be Barbra at that moment in this role,” he said. “But I think that Lea has maybe a bit of an advantage over Beanie in this regard because Beanie is really competing with the Barbra shadow. Whereas Lea comes in and she’s going to be compared to Beanie in this production.”
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