It looks like the weather gods didn’t heed Fanny Brice’s humble request.
But even a dreary and drizzly Tuesday in Manhattan couldn’t rain Lea Michele‘s parade as the former ‘Glee’ star made her long-awaited debut in “funny girlthe revival. Before Michele could sing a note in her crystalline soprano, the crowd at the August Wilson Theater rose to their feet as soon as she appeared on stage, making it difficult to hear the famous line of opening the show, “Hello, magnificent.” She would receive six standing ovations in all, crescendoing into a final round of applause.
It’s been a long time since Michele spent a good chunk of her career (unofficially) campaigning to portray incandescent comedian and singer Fanny Brice on stage. Her obsession with “Funny Girl” became a tradition on “Glee,” where her character Rachel Berry regularly performed the musical’s greatest hits – including “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” “I’m the Greatest Star” and “People” – for all six seasons of the show. A public audition tape, of sorts.
And the audience – A-list and others – showed up in full force. In addition to a packed house of Gleeks, the audience included Michele’s BFF and former “Spring Awakening” co-star Jonathan Groff (who looked positively ecstatic whenever the actress was on stage, rocking back and forth in rhythm, sobbing at various points, and jumping to lead every ovation), his former “Glee” boss Ryan Murphy, Zachary Quinto, Drew Barrymore, Harvey Fierstein (fresh off the delivery of a another polish on the series’ occasionally grating book) and producer Jordan Roth, resplendent in a flowing, animal-print jacket. The audience was clearly on Michele’s side and it’s unlikely she’ll ever perform in front of another crowd so eager to see her fly.
“We are Gleeks first, then humans,” says 24-year-old Julianna DeAngelis. “I grew up listening to Lea Michele sing ‘Don’t Rain on my Parade’.” She and her theater mate Fiona Castro say they each spent $250 to experience the second coming of “Funny Girl.”
“We definitely would have spent more,” added Castro, 24. “It’s a historic moment considering everything that’s happened with the revival.”
And there were plenty of headlines to browse regarding “Funny Girl” last year. When the production mounted its return to Broadway for the first time in nearly six decades, it did so with “Booksmart” actor Beanie Feldstein, not Michele, in the title role as the star of Ziegfeld’s Follies who has the misfortune to fall in love with the wrong man. Still, Feldstein’s performance was met with lackluster reviews, Tony’s boyfriend, and tough comparisons to Barbra Streisand’s career performance. The withering reviews sparked rumors that Michele was being considered to reprise the marquee role in a bid to boost ticket sales. And once Michele’s casting was confirmed, Feldstein left “Funny Girl” two months early, citing the producer’s decision to “take the show in a different direction.”
There have also been critics of Michele’s big Broadway comeback. She largely retreated from the spotlight in 2020 after former “Glee” co-star Samantha Marie Ware accused Michele of “traumatic microaggressions” that fostered a toxic set. Michele later apologized for her “behavior and for any pain I caused.”
But on Tuesday, for the first time in several weeks, the drama surrounding the musical mostly played out on stage.
Ramin Karimloo, who plays Nicky Arnstein, Fanny’s love interest, managed to avoid the offstage mess.
“From what I understand, because I didn’t grow up on ‘Funny Girl,’ that show inspired a lot of people, and that’s something that has been on their minds for a long time,” he said. . Variety before opening night. “I don’t know anything about ‘Glee.’ I didn’t know anything about Lea before that, so hearing her sing for the first time was extraordinary. As for Michele’s take on Brice, he praised how “she wanted to dive into romance”, adding: is so effective.”
There’s a song that will get the audience on their feet, he correctly prophesied. “Come on…she’s blowing the roof off with ‘Don’t Rain on My Parade,’ which I guess she sang on that show everyone’s talking about,” he says. “The way she sings makes me dance.”
At intermission, the crowd was buzzing with Michele’s voice and the general energy in the venue. After the curtain fell on Michele, who tearfully accepted a bouquet of white roses as she waved to the audience, fans flocked to the stage door for one last glimpse of the star. There, Michele signed Playbills and posters amid a crush of well-wishers.
For Marlenn Sabbagh, a 21-year-old theatre-goer, the evening certainly lived up to her expectations.
“It was the best theatrical experience I’ve ever had, and I’ve been going there my whole life,” Sabbagh said. “The audience was amazing. The energy was so good. I never cared about Justin Bieber’s growth. This is my Justin Bieber concert.