Why has there been so much conflict and conversation over a cast change on Broadway, a personnel decision in a Chicago theater, and a producer’s late payroll for a musical that’s just closed?
It’s complicated. In each case, there’s a lot of history, and frayed feelings, to put it mildly.
“Why the Internet Is So Obsessed With Lea Michele Replacing Beanie Feldstein in Funny Girl.” (Slate)
Slate’s Heather Schwedel, extensively citing a Daily Beast article by Tim Teeman (who relies heavily on one anonymous producer) provides a thorough albeit sometimes snarky primer. The essence of the story: Beanie Feldstein, although a talented and well-liked performer, received generally poor notices for her performance as Fanny Brice. The producers were reportedly split as to whether to continue her in the part; the consensus is that they didn’t handle this well. (One writer in American Theatre suggested the attitude towards Feldstein was motivated in part by “fatphobia,” possibly also antisemitism and homophobia.) Lea Michele, who has in effect been auditioning for many years (on her TV series “Glee,” at the Tony Awards, on talk shows) for the role that made Barbra Streisand a star, is also talented, but not well-liked — accused by some of her colleagues on “Glee” of mistreating them. (From Daily Beast’s Kyndall Cunningham: “Let’s Not Celebrate Lea Michele Terrorizing Her Way to the Top.”)
This has become national news. From CNN: A timeline of the ‘Funny Girl’ drama — and how Lea Michele got there (which starts in 1964!)
Victory Gardens Theater
The Board of Directors at Victory Gardens Theater in Chicago recently placed “on leave” the artistic director Ken-Matt Martin whom they had hired just 16 months earlier, setting off a series of resignations and protests. What is unclear to me is why Martin was removed. What is clear is that this is the latest chapter in a saga full of tension and mistrust. (The previous artistic director and board chair resigned in 2020 after protests.) The best overview I’ve read so far is an article in American Theatre. Here is coverage by the Chicago Sun-Times, Playbill, and a series of posts on Rescripted; an account by playwright Isaac Gomez in Medium on behalf of the theater’s resident artists explaining why “We Resign”; and the letter by playwright Erika Dickerson-Dispenza announcing “As a result of the white supremacist capitalist patriarchal values espoused by the board of directors at Victory Gardens Theater, I have pulled the production of my show,. cullud wattah, effective immediately.”
Two articles in the Hollywood Reporter sum up the news: “Unions Take Broadway Show ‘Paradise Square’ to Court for $350,000 in Unpaid Benefits, Wages” followed two days later by: “Actors’ Equity to Add Producer Garth Drabinsky to “Do Not Work” List After ‘Paradise Square’ Cast Speaks Out “ The essential context for this story: “Drabinsky was convicted of fraud in Canada in 2009 for misstating finances as head of a publicly traded theater company. In 2014, he received full parole in Canada, with the promise that he not be in charge of finances for his projects.”
More Theater News This Week
Mr. Saturday Night, co-written and starring Billy Crystal, will conclude its Broadway run on September 4, 2022, a little more than four months after its official opening.
Theater people nominated for Emmy Awards (Broadway.com)
Christopher Durang is diagnosed with aphasia (Broadway News)
The 73-year-old playwright is responsible for some of the funniest and cleverest plays I’ve ever seen on a New York stage, including the Tony-winning “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike”
The Phantom of the Opera will be performed in Mandarin when it is performed for the first time in China in 2023 — the 184th city cities and 18th language in which Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical has been performed.
The latest in my Broadway Alphabet Series