Few names strike fear into the heart of mother mortals quite like Lea Michele. Since her time on GleeMichele’s striving for modern-day Streisand status has made her a fixture of tabloids, Tumblr, and gossip, from her co-workers accusing her of microaggressions to all those illiteracy rumors. People love to talk about Lea Michele almost as much as they love to see her perform.
But while her personal life can sometimes overshadow her talent, she’s been chasing the role of Fanny Brice from funny girl for years, performing songs on Glee and in person and telling whoever would listen that she’s ready for the revival at a moment’s notice. So when Beanie Feldstein took the role to more or less disastrous endsTony watchers around the country wondered when Michele would get her crack at treading the boards on the Great White Way as Fanny Brice.
The wait was worth it, apparently. Taking over for Feldstein last month, Michele’s inaugural run has earned rave reviews, with the word “spectacular” being a frequently printed adjective or, as EW put it, “simply spectacular.” Writer Jessica Derschowitz continues by rightly comparing Michele to a “stealth missile”:
Those who come to the August Wilson expecting Michele to blow the roof off the place won’t be disappointed. The surrounding buildings on 52nd Street should brace for impact, too. Michele uses her voice like a stealth missile, belting easily through marquee songs like “People” and “Don’t Rain on My Parade” and earning all the enthusiastic applause she gets for them.
Deadline also liked the word “spectacular,” and, like EWenjoyed putting things “simply.”
“After all the controversies and badly handled original castings and headlines and backstage bruisings and firings or resignations or whatever they were, funny girl is, as so many suspected all along, the musical that Lea Michele was born to lead,” writes Greg Evans. “Broadway’s new Fanny Brice is, to put is simply and without exaggeration, a knock-out.”
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The violent metaphors don’t stop there. Writing for vulnerability, Jackson McHenry describes Michele’s Broadway bloodlust. “With every eye roll toward the audience and every belt, Michele seems to face the pressure to not just be good, or great, but the greatest,” McHenry writes. “This is less a star vehicle than gladiatorial combat. She makes it through with blood on the sand.”
Lea Michele, however, cannot fix everything in the show. Numerous critics have cited the shortcomings of funny girl as a barrier for Michele to overcome—or perhaps explode. “The musical will always be a second-rate vehicle that’s salvageable only with a first-rate star,” writes The Hollywood Reporter‘s David Rooney. “On stage, the musical ambles along over two-and-a-half hours with scene after scene that begs to be trimmed, and at least a few songs that could be dropped with no significant loss. Having twin cannons fire confetti over the audience at the end of the second-act military production number, “Rat-Tat-Tat-Tat,” doesn’t make it less of a dud.” Still, Rooney finds Michele “sensational.”
Though, as The Wrap and most reviews note, comedy isn’t Lea Michele’s strong suit—nor is it the show’s. “Michele is a singing diva hard at work,” writes Robert Hofler. “What’s missing is a “girl” who happens to be very ‘funny.’”
Finally, The New York Times‘ Jesse Green compares his initial review of the Beanie Feldstein performance to the new:
Fanny was just too much of a reach for Beanie Feldstein, offering a pleasant performance in a role that shouldn’t be. ‘Without a stupendous Fanny to thrill and distract,’ I wrote at the time, ‘the musical’s manifold faults become painfully evident.’
Lea Michele, who took over the role on Sept. 6, turns out to be that stupendous Fanny. Yes, she even lights up like a light. Both vulnerable and invulnerable, kooky and ardent, she makes the show worth watching again.
Now that Lea Michele is playing Fanny Brice, maybe we can get around to some more pressing casting matters, like why hasn’t Brian Blessed been cast as Tom Bombadil on Lord Of The Rings yet?