Broadway’s triumphant, albeit dramatic, return - revivals, retirements and rivalry

Eoghan Funge looks at the return of Broadway

After what has felt like an eternity, New York's Broadway theatres reopened this year - to the joy of many, capacity restrictions reduced down and audiences spilled back into their beloved shows. Many productions, such as Lin Manuel Miranda's Hamilton and Stephen Schwartz’s Wicked all made expected, yet much anticipated returns. The announcement of many unexpected revivals brought great joy to theatre fans, such as a Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster led The Music Man, (a much beloved Meredith Wilson production, which also received a hugely successful film adaptation). However, one revival has been constantly hitting peoples social media and news circles - and that's the long awaited Merrill and Styne Funny Girl adaptation. 

The production was praised when casting was first announced: By bringing pop culture icon Beanie Feldstein (Booksmart, Ladybird) to the lead role of Fanny Brice, a role that in the past has been typecast to fit certain standards, was, by many accounts, properly represented for the first time. The show's director and production team opted to cast Feldstein, a plus size actress of Jewish heritage. She proudly took to social media to announce her casting. However, she was not the only star to be cast in the production; Jane Lynch (Glee) was announced to play Brice’s mother “Mrs Brice”. 

The show was, initially, met with mixed reaction; many fans took to social media to express their disappointment in Feldstein's singing capabilities. Following this feedback, it was announced that Feldstein had made the decision along with Funny Girl producers to set a departure date for the 25th of September. People Magazine reported that:

“The producers of Funny Girl were not blindsided by Beanie’s social post. The producers decided to take the show in a different direction and end Beanie’s contract on September 25th, 6 months earlier than anticipated.”

One month later, Beanie Feldstein took to Instagram to announce she had opted to bring her departure to a closer date - July 31st. Jane Lynch followed suit. Following this announcement, on July 11th, the official Funny Girl instagram went online to announce they would be releasing casting information at 1pm EST on the 12th. 24 hours later, after what to many felt like weeks of speculation it was announced that Tovah Feldshuh would take on the role of Mrs Brice. However, it was not this choice that took to headlines, but rather the announcement that the producers had decided to take this production down an “art imitates reality” route and cast Lea Michelle - controversial Glee star - in the production’s lead role. 

While Michele had, for quite some time, been a figure of online trolling and jokes following rumours that she was in fact illiterate and had used tricks of the camera to seem like she was reading, she had also been the source of controversy following admissions from past Glee cast members that she was abusive, and difficult to work with on set. After a tweet from Samantha Ware, who many may know as Jane Hayward from Glee, allegations began to spread. Ware stated “Remember when you made my first television gig a living hell?!? I believe you told others that you wanted to s— in my wig”. This tweet was posted in response to Michele’s support of the Black Lives Matter Movement in June 2020. 

While the circumstances surrounding Michele’s casting seem, at the very least, questionable, the production seems to be doing better than it was when her predecessor was in the role. According to a Deadline article released on the 14th of September 2022 the show led by Lea Michele in her first week was set to take in $1.6m - smashing the show’s record with Feldstein in the role. 

In this season to date, according to Box Office records, Broadway has taken over $450m in revenue over 19 productions with a rate of approximately 86% capacity. 

While Funny Girl seems to be a rousing success thus far - there are fears it may be on borrowed time, as Broadway giant The Music Man has announced a closing date of January 31st 2023 - the Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster led production lasting under a year on the stage. Other shows announcing their closure include Come From Away (2017), The Phantom of the Opera (1988), and Dear Evan Hansen  (2015), both of which managed to endure the Covid-19 pandemic closures, though ultimately had to face the music, and announce their end. The corresponding West End Productions for Come From Away and Dear Evan Hansen have also announced their closing dates.

The 19 productions reporting figures on Broadway last week were Aladdin, Beetlejuice, The Book of Mormon, Chicago, Come From Away, Dear Evan Hansen, Funny Girl, Hadestown, Hamilton, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Into the Woods, The Kite Runner, The Lion King, MJ, Moulin Rouge!, The Phantom of the Opera, Six, A Strange Loop and Wicked.