“There is nothing like being on stage for me. It’s my childhood love.”
You could be excused for thinking Beanie Feldstein, currently starring as vaudeville star and comedian Fanny Brice in the Broadway’s first-ever revival of Funny Girl at the August Wilson Theatre, is most at home on the screen, especially considering her recent turn as Monica Lewinski in FX’s American Crime Story: Impeachment or her Golden Globe-nominated performance in 2019’s Booksmart.
But taking to the stage in Jule Styne and Bob Merrill’s golden age love letter to the theatre feels like a homecoming for Feldstein. “My first love was Funny Girl as a toddler, and I’ve sung musical theatre since I was five. [Broadway] was very much my only goal for most of my life. It wasn’t until I was about 21 that I thought, ‘Oh, maybe I should try to audition for film and television,’ and that’s just where my first opportunities took place.”
Funny Girl might be most remembered for its landmark score—it counts such favorites as “Don’t Rain On My Parade,” “People,” and “The Music That Makes Me Dance” among its song list—but it’s also the inspiring story of Fanny Brice, a comedian and singer who rose from a humble New York upbringing to a headlining star on Broadway and the vaudeville circuit.
Feldstein’s kinship with Brice goes well beyond the stage star’s love for the stage. Brice, in life and as depicted in Funny Girl, was unapologetically Jewish and surrounded by a loving and enthusiastic Jewish community, something Feldstein knows well from her own upbringing in Los Angeles.
“When it was announced that I was going to play Fanny Brice, I got voicemails from every single one of my equivalents to Fanny’s Mrs. Strakosh and Mrs. Meeker, my mom’s best friends in the world. They could literally be on the stage playing [those roles]. Those are my second moms and aunts.”
In fact, Feldstein reports that audiences can expect a slightly more Jewish Funny Girl this time around. Tony-winning playwright and performer Harvey Fierstein has adapted Isobel Lennart’s original book, and among the additions are several new Yiddish moments. As Feldstein shares, “it’s just very joyously Jewish.”
And it’s not lost on Feldstein that she is leading this new production thanks in part to the trail that Brice herself blazed a century ago.
“I truly believe that none of us—specifically me as a young, Jewish female performer who loves musical comedy—none of us would be able to have careers if it wasn’t for Fanny Brice. Even thinking of people like Bette Midler, the people I think of as who set it up for me, Fanny is a generation back and set it up for her. It’s really moving, and also empowering.”
Feldstein made her Broadway debut in the 2017 Tony-winning, Bette Midler-led revival of Hello, Dolly!, but her latest role puts Feldstein in the sights of another iconic Jewish stage performer: Barba Streisand, whose performance leading the original cast of Funny Girl on stage and screen catapulted her to international stardom.
“I watched the Funny Girl movie every day of my life from ages two to eight, so I’ve been obsessed with Barbra my entire life—she’s been my idol my entire life. But I haven’t watched the movie in many, many years, and once I got the audition I specifically didn’t re-watch it, because my focus is on Fanny Brice herself. I love Barbra for now and forever, but I just have to focus on Fanny.”