“That was my dream come true,” Lea Michele exclaimed from the stage Sunday after her final performance in “Funny Girl,” the Broadway revival the actress brought to life when her future was somber a year ago.
Michele’s sudden addition to the production, which closed out its star, ran to nearly 600 performances and allowed it to recoup its capitalization costs — far from a Broadway guarantee. At Sunday’s matinee, the actress basked in the show’s success, receiving seven standing ovations, including for the compelling barn burner “Don’t Rain on My Parade” and the reflective ballad “People.”
“I have truly been given the greatest gift to surpass this dream and that is the unconditional love and support from this cast, who have worked so, so, so hard,” added Michele. “I was embraced with open arms the moment I walked in.”
As Michele turns the show’s fortunes around, “Funny Girl” appears to have turned hers around. Three years ago, Michele’s celebrity was overshadowed by a wave of criticism for bullying behavior and a prima donna attitude. Since her entrance as the show’s lead, Michele has once again played the role of a popular Broadway star, expressing Tony nominees, performing in late-night shows and booking a solo concert this fall at Carnegie Hall.
In her final show at the August Wilson Theater, Michele treated the audience to an additional song: “My Man,” which included lyrics from an original performed by Fanny Brice, the pioneering Jewish entertainer whose life was the basis for the musical.
Michele said the song — which was sung by the show’s original star, Barbra Streisand, in the film version, though it was not included in either Broadway production — has become an important song to her since she sang it on the series. on television’s “Glee. ” A belter about devotion to a man despite his constant disappointment, “My Man” focuses the series on a character played by Cory Monteith, whom Michele has dated on TV and in real life. Monteith, who struggled with drug abuse, died of a combination of heroin and alcohol in 2013.
“The whole thing with life imitating art imitating life really gets me,” said Richard Gruber, who has seen Michele in “Funny Girl” seven times and sat in the second row of the theater during Sunday’s performance.
Gruber, 69, who lives in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., flew out Sunday morning for the final performance and had a return flight Sunday night.
“I just find her riveting,” Gruber said, clutching a white rose that the production gave to the audience at the front of the house to throw at the curtain call.
Over the years, theater producers have struggled to revive “Funny Girl” because of its inextricable connection to Streisand, who was 21 when the original production first opened on Broadway. (Streisand is not known to have attended any performances of the revival.)
Streisand has long been Michele’s idol, starting out as a child actress on Broadway, becoming a household name as the lead in “Spring Awakening” and becoming a household name on “Glee” as an uptight but talented high school glee club member. . In a blending of TV and reality, Michele’s character, Rachel Berry, took on the role of Brice, and Michele performed some of the musical’s songs on the show.
Michele has long been discussed as an option for the “Funny Girl” revival, but the show’s director Michael Mayer, who directed Michele in “Spring Awakening,” said last year that he felt she wasn’t ready. back to work after the birth of her child. Actress Beanie Feldstein was cast in the role, but she got mediocre reviews when the show opened in spring 2022. It received a Tony nomination, for Jared Grimes, who plays Brice’s dance coach and sidekick.
When Feldstein bowed out of the show earlier than expected, Michele was tapped to replace him, sparking a flood of press attention, social media debate and, when she made her debut, rave reviews that fueled ticket sales. A tour, featuring Katerina McCrimmon, kicks off Saturday in Providence, RI
In “Funny Girl,” Michele made her first appearance in a Broadway cast in 15 years. He indicated that the next gap was less noticeable. The artist said Variety that he’s already booked his next job, indicating that it’s a show he hopes people will recognize, but that it’s very different from the one that brought him back to Broadway.