The best dramas in life are the ones that happen off-stage, which is precisely what is happening right now on, of all places, Broadway.
Funny Girl, the semi-biographical musical of New York vaudeville comedian Fanny Bryce, has just experienced a major cast turnover. That news in itself is not all that exciting, but the reasons behind the re-casting and a bizarre life-imitates-art moment involving the cast of Glee have made this one of the most compelling Broadway scandals in recent times.
I’ll be honest, I’ve seen a lot of talk about some off-stage Broadway drama but I have no idea what it means or why I should care. Explain it to me?
OK, so. Glee. Remember it?
Yeah, the show about musical-loving teens and their musical-hating sports coach?
That’s the one. Across the whole show, there was this running gag that main character Rachel Berry (played by Lea Michele) wanted to sing in the musical Funny Girl. The 1964 stage show (and subsequent Oscar-winning film) catapulted Barbra Streisand into fame. And it just so happened that Streisand was Rachel Berry’s idol.
Back in the real world, the iconic show was virtually never brought back (aside from a few attempts in Europe a few years ago). The thought was: nobody could ever fill Streisand’s shoes, so why bother trying? Until they did!
So did they cast Rachel Berry?
Rachel Berry is a character from Glee, not a real person, remember. But, since the dawn of time (circa 2009 when Glee first aired) there has been this general assumption in the musical world that if Funny Girl ever returned Michele, who played Berry, would have to play Fanny, the musical’s main character.
But she wasn’t cast – instead, Beanie Feldstein, a 29-year-old Jewish American actor got the role. That’s important because, as advocates quickly pointed out, Fanny was Jewish too, as is Streisand. But then the reviews began to come in, and, ouch. “The casting makes sense on paper,” The Guardian‘s review went. “But this is a musical, one with some full-tilt belting, and her singing just isn’t up to par.”
So Feldstein can not sing?
Feldstein has quite a high-pitched, soft voice. The music in the show? Big, loud. Not a great fit. And here’s the thing about musicals: they are expensive to produce, so for them to be a success at the box office, they either need to have a big star or be very, very good.
The reviews were not great, and while she’s been in other shows, Feldstein is no Barbra Streisand. So the show started bleeding money.