1664761022 Lea Michele Finally a Spectacular Funny Girl Broadway Review

Lea Michele: Finally a Spectacular ‘Funny Girl’ – Broadway Review

Well, that’s that. After all the controversy and mishandled original casting and headlines and backstage bruising and layoffs or resignations or whatever, Funny Girl is, as so many suspected all along, the musical Lea Michele was for was born. Broadway’s new Fanny Brice is, to put it simply and without exaggeration, a knockout.

Michele has been in the role since early September but with some cast members ill with Covid in recent weeks and to give the newcomer some breathing space, critics have only been invited to the August Wilson in recent days to observe the changes. The wait was worth it.

From the moment she begins singing the opening number, “Who Are You Now?”, audiences relax in the knowledge that this musical, regardless of its other merits – or lack thereof, and there are many flaws – is sung by a voice that can do it justice. No, more than justice because Michele is so good in the role of Fanny that she raises all mixed bag production, if not to her level then damn close. It makes performers who were good the first time – Ramin Karimloo as Nick Arnstein, Peter Francis James as Florenz Ziegfeld – seem all the better, raising the overall level of performance to the point that the great Jared Grimes as dance teacher Eddie now shines during his spectacular No longer helpless when tap dancing: He seems to be part of the show, rather apart from the show.

Without unduly rehashing the summer’s unfortunate headlines, Funny Girl opened last spring with Beanie Feldstein as Fanny and Jane Lynch as her mother, Mrs Brice. Feldstein was never as bad as the gossip suggested – she’s a lovable stage actress with a singing voice that’s only just appropriate. Unfortunately, Funny Girl, a barely adequate musical, needs a lot more from its star or there’s just far too much adequate begging for attention. Needless to say, the star the show was created for seemed to understand this with everything she had, knowing that Funny Girl needed Barbra Streisand a long time ago.

While Michele has made no secret of her love of Barbra over the years — it was a running joke on Glee — she delivers a Fanny Brice that only leans toward the original when absolutely necessary — line readings of jokes Written for Streisand still sounds like Streisand, power ballads still insist on the big, belted tones that were Streisand’s calling card long before Michele was born.

But to say that Michele is Streisand 2.0 would be demeaning in equal measure. To my ears, Michele’s “People” is more airy than the Streisand classic, maybe a little warmer. “I’m The Greatest Star” arrives with such a force of nature that those multiple standing ovations you read about are absolutely spontaneous and heartfelt. And “Don’t Rain On My Parade” – both in its early can-do swagger and as a terrifying act of survival as a second act – returns to its rightful place among Broadway’s great, beloved showstoppers, with Michele’s crystal clear, belted tones out.

The new Fanny is equally at home in the non-singing segments, nailing the punchlines as they are and finding a level of comfort with her castmates that Feldman hasn’t always achieved. Michele and Karimloo have a slight chemistry – at one point during the reviewed performance there was a minor mishap with the famous blue marble egg Nick gave Fanny. It slipped out of their hands and landed on the table with a thud, making the audience and the two stars laugh. After a summer of alleged tensions and hurt feelings, that smile on stage felt like taking a deep breath.

Lea Michele Finally a Spectacular Funny Girl Broadway Review

Tovah Feldshuh, Lea Michele

And Michele is not the only newcomer bringing a breath of fresh air: Tovah Feldshuh is a pearl as Mrs. Brice, a small heap of courage and fire and maternal devotion, which makes it clear where Fanny got her courage and talent. Feldshuh, in a way the woefully miscast Jane Lynch wasn’t, is utterly believable as the old-school saloon courtiers of yore who raised their very funny girl to be in the world of showbiz and the world in general to survive.

Your Fanny has obviously taken some important lessons to heart. Seems a lot of that happened at the Wilson.