Will Lea Michele’s return to Broadway in Funny Girl be enough to redeem her tarnished reputation?
Lea Michele’s roller coaster of a career just took another unexpected turn after the former Glee actress was asked to return to Broadway to replace Beanie Feldstein in the Funny Girl revival as Fanny Brice.
This will be Michele’s first significant role since she had been exposed for her bad behavior behind the scenes that ranges from bullying to full-on discrimination.
Not only have her co-stars have called her a ‘nightmare’ and ‘very unpleasant’ to work with, but others, like Black actress Samantha Ware accused Michele of exerting ‘traumatic microaggressions’ against her like threatening to ‘s–t in her wig’ while trans model Plastic Martyr claimed Michele yelled at her for being in the women’s bathroom.
‘Yes, I’m online today. Yes, I see y’all. Yes, I care. Yes, I’m affected,’ Ware wrote in response to Michele’s Funny Girl announcement.
She continued: ‘Yes, I’m human. Yes, I’m Black. Yes, I was abused. Yes, my dreams were tainted. Yes, Broadway upholds whiteness. Yes, Hollywood does the same. Yes, silence is complicity. Yes, I’m loud. Yes, I’d do it again.’
Other Gleeks and Michele fans feel that the star has finally attained the dream role she has been lowkey auditioning for during her time on Glee.
‘A dream come true is an understatement,’ the 35 year old actress wrote on her announcement post Tuesday.
‘I’m so incredibly honored to join this amazing cast and production and return to the stage playing Fanny Brice on Broadway. See you September 6th.’
‘A dream come true is an understatement,’ Michele said while announcing that she’ll be replacing Beanie Feldstein in the Funny Girl revival on Broadway
Michele sang nearly every song from Funny Girl while on Glee including I’m the Greatest Star
The actress flawlessly sang nearly the entire Funny Girl score while on Glee – including the show-stopping number Don’t Rain on My Parade – and her character even landed the role of Fanny Brice in the fictionalized Funny Girl revival.
Additionally her character idolized Barbara Streisand, the original ‘Funny Girl,’ and her friends on the show organized a Barbara themed flash mob when she was feeling down about her looks and wanted to get a nose job.
Michele’s dreams were almost realized a couple of times before. When a potential Funny Girl revival was eyeing Broadway in 2011, the actress was still filming Glee.
Three years later, Glee creator Ryan Murphy obtained the rights for Funny Girl and essentially promised Michele the role if he were to take it to Broadway. However, the next year he claimed he ‘felt like we did it’ already since they had done so many of the shows on Glee.
In 2017, Michele heavily hinted her interest in mounting the revival after she sang ‘like nine Funny Girl songs’ at Broadway’s Elsie Fest in Central Park and told Andy Cohen she was ‘ready to do it.’ However, by that point, Murphy’s rights over the Funny Girl revival had expired.
While this may all make her seem like a no-brainer for the role of Fanny in real life, many feel she is not worthy of another chance after how has behaved in the industry and she treated co-stars in the past.
While Broadway producers claim that diverse and equitable casting is one of their main goals, many fans feel like casting Michele is taking a large step backward in that initiative.
Here’s a look back at the ups and downs of Michele’s career and scandals as she prepares to step into her ‘dream’ role.
Michele booked her first Broadway role at just eight years old and got her big break at age 19 in the Tony Award-winning musical Spring Awakening
Michele booked her first role on Broadway after convincing her mom to let her join her friend on an open call for Les Mis at eight years old
Michele went from your average girl from Tenafly, New Jersey to a Broadway star when she was just eight years old. She persuaded her mom to let her join her friend for an open call for the 1987 Broadway show Les Miserables.
Even though she had never performed and she didn’t know how to sing, as her mother reminded her at the time, she managed to beat out her friend and all the other girls and snagged the role of Young Cosette.
She then went on to star in Ragtime in 1998 and Fiddler on the Roof in 2004. Growing up on Broadway wasn’t easy, but Michele has insisted that she wouldn’t have it any other way.
‘I’ve kinda had to grow up fast,’ she told Broadway Buzz in 2006. ‘But it’s made me who I am.’
‘I have some awesome friends from high school, and I’ve also been able to work with people like Marin Mazzie, Audra McDonald and Brian Stokes Mitchell—I mean, come on! I wouldn’t change any of it. This is exactly where I want to be.’
She shot up into Broadway stardom when she landed the lead role of Wendla in Spring Awakening in 2006.
‘I’ve kinda had to grow up fast,’ Michele said of her childhood Broadway career as she starred in shows like Ragtime in 1998 at age 12
Michele starred in Fiddler on the Roof in 2004 at age 17 before getting her big break in Spring Awakening
Michele starred in the Tony Award-winning musical Spring Awakening in 2006 at age 19
The controversial rock musical is the quintessential of coming of age story that ends in tragedy with a strong focus on sexual exploration.
Still a teenager herself, Michele had to perform a daring simulated sex scene live on stage in front of an audience. While that would be daunting to many, she didn’t seem to bat an eye at it at the time.
‘People like to focus on that scene,’ she told Broadway Buzz. ‘I always get questions like “How does it make you feel? How do your parents feel?” You know what? It’s a sex scene.’
She also credited her castmate Jonathan Groff – who would eventually also become one of her love interests on Glee.
‘It’s risky, but I am so comfortable working with [co-star] Jonathan Groff. He makes it easy for me,’ she shared.
At 19 years old, she was gunning for a Tony Award. Unfortunately, while the show won Best Musical and her fellow castmates including Groff were nominated, her name wasn’t even on the ballot which still seems to be a sore spot for Michele.
‘I didn’t get a [Tony] nomination like the boys did, which was a big learning experience for me,’ she said in a 2015 interview with Harper’s Bazaar, admitting it still bothered her.
Even though she didn’t get a Tony, she did get her big break from Spring Awakening.
An explosive start on the screen: Michele landed the role of Rachel after getting in a car accident before her audition and had to pull pieces of glass out of her hair
Glee landed the role of Rachel Berry on Glee after getting in a car crash just before her audition
After a successful childhood career on Broadway, she went on to grace the small screen. Glee creator Ryan Murphy invited Michele to audition for the TV show after seeing her in Spring Awakening.
While he may have wrote the role with her in mind, her odds were working against her as she got into a car accident while heading to her audition.
‘I got into a massive car crash outside of the Fox lot — completely totaling my car,’ she recounted in a featurette for the Glee Season 1 DVD.
‘When I get into the room for my audition, I literally was still pulling pieces of glass out of my hair. They’re like, “Are you okay?” I’m like, “I’m fine!”‘
On top of the the accompanist skipped a verse of her song and in classic Rachel Berry fashion, she demanded that the pianist go back from the top since she had to sing the whole song.
Unsurprisingly, she landed the role and went on to play the overly competitive and confident high school theatre diva, Rachel Berry for all six seasons of the show from 2009 and 2015.
Michele played Rachel, the overly competitive and confident high school theatre diva, on the hit series Glee
Michele showed off her undeniable vocal chops time and time again on the show with hits from Broadway as pictured in season two above
Michele’s character Rachel went on to become a Broadway star in the later seasons as pictured left with Chris Colfer in season five in 2014 and pictured right with Jenna Ushkowitz in season six in 2015
Her character’s full arc is explored on the show as she goes from the leader of her high school’s Glee club, New Directions to being a Tony Award-winning actress on Broadway.
Michele showed off her undeniable vocal chops time and time again on the show with hits from Broadway – including Funny Girl – and remixes of pop hits at the time.
Her celebrity status grossed so highly that Penelope Cruz recognized her as ‘the girl with all the awards’ while out to dinner with her husband, Javier Bardem.
However, her time on Glee wasn’t all highs but also had some incredibly low lows.
The curse of Glee: Michele and her costars have mourned the young deaths of three of their castmates over the years
Michele mourned the deaths of her castmates over the years as the cast has been infamously plagued with tragedy
The Glee cast has infamously been plagued by tragedy both while filming and long after was over.
Cory Monteith, who played football-star-turned-theatre-kid Finn Hudson, was found dead in a hotel room after mixing heroin and alcohol in 2013, while Glee was still filming.
Monteith, who died at 31, had admitted that he struggled with drug addiction since he was 16 years old. While he tried to get sober a number of times, just three months before his tragic overdose, the actor admitted he had been seeking addiction treatment.
Michele was dating Monteith both on the show and in real life and took his death particularly difficultly.
‘I feel like, for me personally, I’ve lost two people: Cory and Finn,’ Michele said on TV Week Australia at the time.
‘We had a beautiful memorial for Cory in the auditorium and some of the cast members sang and people spoke about him. It only felt right that we would do the same thing for Finn, so I felt it was very therapeutic.’
The cast filmed a tribute episode to honor Monteith and explain his character’s disappearance, with Michele leading the honors. During the episode titled The Quarterback, she sang Make You Feel My Love as his Finn was laid to rest.
For the actress, returning to work after the unspeakable tragedy was the best thing for her.
‘Everyone is asking, “Is it hard to do this? Is it hard to be back at work?”‘ she said. ‘But the truth is, it’s no harder at work than it is in life, so we might as well all be together as a family supporting each other to get through this together.’
Monteith, who passed away at 31, played Finn, Rachel’s love interest, (pictured left) also dated Michele in real life (pictured right) and Michele lamented how it felt like she lost ‘two people: Finn and Corey’
Michele reportedly struggled with the death of Mark Walling pictured above in 2009
Michele uploaded a picture of Rivera in Glee as a tribute for her death in 2020
Mark Salling, who played resident bad boy Puck, died in 2018 after filming wrapped. The actor died at age 35 by suicide as he was awaiting trial for child pornography charges filed two years prior.
While she hadn’t spoken out about his death at the time, sources close to Michele revealed that she wasn’t handling it well.
‘Lea is having a really hard time with Mark’s death,’ a source told Life and Style. ‘Of course, they weren’t close in recent years. But while they were filming Glee, Lea considered Mark a brother.’
The source added: ‘It’s particularly heartbreaking for her after Cory’s death. She can’t believe another person from the cast is gone.’
Then came Naya Rivera’s tragic passing at 33 years old. The actress who played Santana, the sarcastic yet relatable cheerleader, went missing in 2020 during a boating trip.
While there was speculation of her true cause of death, it was deemed that there was no evidence of foul play or suicide and that she possibly died trying to save her son, Josey, from drowning.
After her death was revealed, Michele posted a picture of Rivera on Glee with a dove emoji.
It appears that these deaths still affect Michele to this day as she posted a picture of Monteith to her story on Wednesday on the ninth anniversary of his death.
She truly embraced her character Rachel – but was it too much? Co-stars accuse her of being a diva and racism allegations arise after Glee wrapped
Glee actress Ware accused Michele of threatening to get her fired from the show and other ‘microaggressions’
While Glee might be her biggest success thus far, its also, ironically, what caused the downfall of her career and reputation.
Rachel’s diva attitude may have seemed like an over-the-top caricature, but some of her former co-stars have implied that some of her acting choices as Rachel weren’t too far-fetched from her own personality.
As she filmed Glee, rumors began to surface that Michele herself may have had some of the same high-maintenance characteristics as her character.
However, the Glee star defended herself during the 2011 interview with Harper’s Bazaar.
‘People have to remember this is all new for us,’ she said in response to the criticism. ‘I’ve learned some lessons, but people are going to say what they want to say. I know who I am, and I’m not perfect.’
It wasn’t until after her time on Glee that her co-stars began to speak out about her troubling behavior.
In Rivera’s 2016 memoir, Sorry Not Sorry, she wrote, ‘I think Rachel — erm, I mean Lea — didn’t like sharing the spotlight.’
She added: ‘On top of that, she had a hard time separating work from our outside friendship. It seemed like she blamed me for anything and everything that went wrong.’
However, most of the backlash came when one of her co-stars was inspired to speak out after Michele had made a statement on the George Floyd tragedy in 2020.
‘George Floyd did not deserve this. This was not an isolated incident and it must end. #BlackLivesMatter,’ Michele tweeted.
It was then that Samantha Ware challenged Michele, accusing the Glee veteran of discriminating against her, a Black actress.
‘Remember when you made my first television gig a living hell?!?! Cause I’ll never forget,’ Ware tweeted in all caps at the time.
‘I believe you told everyone that if you had the opportunity you would “s–t in my wig!” amongst other traumatic microaggressions that made me question a career in Hollywood.’
Nivera, pictured with Michele, Diana Argon and Ushkowitz in 2009, admitted that Michele ‘didn’t like sharing the spotlight’
Ware claimed that she could tell Michele had it out for her ‘from day one when I attempted to introduce myself’
She later opened up about her experiences with Michele during an interview with Variety.
‘I knew from day one when I attempted to introduce myself. There was nothing gradual about it. As soon as she decided that she didn’t like me, it was very evident,’ Ware told the outlet in 2020.
‘It was after I did my first performance, that’s when it started – the silent treatment, the stare-downs, the looks, the comments under her breath, the weird passive aggressiveness. It all built up.’
In one incident, Ware claimed Michele ‘said she would call Ryan Murphy in to come and fire me.’
Other Black actors who worked with Michele on the show began to speak out including Dabier Snell who wrote: ‘WOULDNT LET ME SIT AT THE TABLE WITH THE OTHER CAST MEMBERS CAUSE ‘I DIDNT BELONG THERE’ F–K YOU LEA.’
Jeanté Godlock, a Black actress who appeared in the background on Glee, shared the condescending name she would call the extras.
‘Did somebody say cockroaches? because that’s what she used to refer to the background as on the set of glee. but we grow up and we don’t stay background forever sooooo,’ Godlock wrote.
Then came an outpouring of complaints from people who had worked with during her Broadway years.
‘You were nothing but a nightmare to me and fellow understudy cast members,’ George Canonico, who worked with her on Spring Awakening wrote.
‘You made us feel like we didn’t belong there. I tried for years to be nice to you to no avail. Maybe actually apologize instead of placing the blame on how others ‘perceive’ you. You’ll probably just delete this though.’
‘She was absolutely awful to me and ensemble,’ Elizabeth Aldrich, who was Michele’s understudy in Ragtime, wrote on Twitter.
‘She demeaned the crew and threatened to have people fired if she was in anyway displeased. I used to cry every night from the mean and manipulative things she would do. She was 12. She was terrifying.’
Another one of her Ragtime castmates said Michele ‘was the meanest person I ever encountered on Broadway. And that includes Tony Randall and Roseanne [Barr] who I also worked with (both AWFUL people). She’s a cancer on humanity.’
In addition to the accusations of racial discrimination, trans model Martyr called Michele out over transphobic behavior.
‘I was still in the process of my transition and wasn’t 100% as “passable” then,’ Martyr wrote in an Instagram comment.
‘I was in the bathroom and started washing my hands and said excuse me to her when trying to reach the soap and she goes “Excuse me?! EXCUSE ME???? EXCUSE you….you realize you’re in the WOMEN’s bathroom.”‘
Michele’s costar Riley claimed that she doesn’t believer her co-star is racist but hopes that she has ‘grown’ and that ‘she now understands’ after she was called out by Ware
Morris, pictured with Michele and Monteith in 2009, claimed Michele was ‘unpleasant to work with’ and that she and the rest of the cast were ‘scared’ to speak out at the time
Then, more of Michele’s former Glee co-stars began to speak out.
Her co-star Amber Riley tweeted a tea sipping gif in response to the drama. She did eventually speak out saying that she was ‘proud of [Ware] of not being fearful and telling her truth.’
However, she maintained that she is ‘not going to say [Michele is] racist’ and hopes that Michele has ‘grown’ from the issue and ‘that she understands.’
Heather Morris didn’t hold back either and admitting that Michele was ‘unpleasant to work with.’
‘Was she unpleasant to work with? Very much so; for Lea to treat others with the disrespect that she did for as long as she did, I believe she SHOULD be called out,’ she tweeted.
She added: ‘Yet, it’s also on us because to allow it to go on for so long without speaking out is something else we’re learning along with the rest of society.’
However, she also stated that people shouldn’t automatically assume Michele is racist.
Later, while on the Danny Pellegrino, she admitted that she believes she and her co-stars didn’t speak out against Michele’s behavior at the time because she felt they were ‘scared.’
Michele did ‘apologize for my behavior and for any pain which I have caused’ after the allegations of racism came out.
‘We all can grow and change and I have definitely used these past several months to reflect my own shortcomings,’ she wrote on Instagram at the time.
She prefaced this, writing, ‘When I tweeted the other day, it was meant to be a show of support for our friends and neighbors and communities of color during this really difficult time, but the responses I received to what I posted have made me also focus specifically on how my own behavior towards fellow cast members was perceived by them.’
She continued: ‘While I don’t remember ever making this specific statement and I have never judged others by their background or color of their skin, that’s not really the point. What matters is that I clearly acted in ways which hurt other people.’
While Michele reportedly went on her ‘redemption tour’ after this, she didn’t do much to win over her opposers.
Rather, she turned people off with a comment she made about ‘showing her vagina’ to her castmate Groff on the 2022 HBO documentary Spring Awakening: Those You’ve Known.
‘Jonathan and I became so close. We were so intertwined,’ she explained in the film.
‘At one point, I literally showed him my whole vagina… He was like, “I’ve never seen a woman’s vagina before. Would you show me?” And I was like, “Sure.” And I took a desk lamp… and showed him. That’s how close we are.’
Even after her attempt to apologize, she still hasn’t managed to book any significant roles since the incident.
Crickets on Michele’s career after Glee wrapped
After Glee, she starred in Scream Queens in 2015 (pictured left) and The Mayor in 2017 (pictured right)
Michele’s career came to standstill after Glee and her dreams of returning to Broadway didn’t come true until her offer for Funny Girl
After Glee, Michele managed to book a couple of roles before the accusations of discrimination arose.
She starred in Murphy’s next project Scream Queens as Hester Ulrich and played Valentina in The Mayor.
However, Michele had much more in mind for her post-Glee career and specifically voiced a desire to return to her theatrical roots.
“I don’t stop. It’s my nature. People have to tell me to slow down. I plan on playing every role on Broadway,’ Michele said during her 2011 interview with Harper’s Bazaar.
‘I want to do Evita. I want to do Sweeney Todd with [Glee costar] Chris Colfer. We want to do Wicked. I’ll be Elphaba and he wants to play “Guy-linda.” I want to do movies, make music. Glee is only the beginning.’
Little did she know, Glee ended up being the beginning of the end. It’s seven years after Glee wrapped that Michele is finally seeing her Broadway dreams to fruition.
The question that fans have been pondering is whether Michele truly deserves a second chance.
Fans want to see if Michele will use this opportunity to right past wrongs or if she’ll continue to sweep them under the rug – and only time will tell.