The Funny Girl star opens up about filling Barbra Streisand's shoes and being a Jewish woman playing a Jewish icon.

For Beanie Feldstein, life's candy and the sun's a ball of butter.

Having made a name for herself in the divinely funny and poignant teenage escapades Lady Bird and Booksmart, the 28-year-old actress recently graduated to leading-lady status, portraying Monica Lewinsky in Impeachment: American Crime Story. And nobody is gonna rain on her parade as she turns to the biggest role of her career thus far.

Five years after making her Broadway debut in the Bette Midler-led revival of Hello, Dolly!, Feldstein is set to headline the first Broadway staging of Funny Girl since its 1964 premiere, which starred none other than Barbra Streisand.

It's a moment she's been dreaming about for nearly her entire life. "It was the first thing I latched onto," Feldstein tells EW, adding that she fell in love with the film version of Funny Girl as a toddler. "I'm a Jewish girl that loves musicals. And when it comes to Jewish women that want to make people laugh and want to sing, Fanny Brice is the ultimate."

Beanie Feldstein in 'Funny Girl'
Beanie Feldstein in 'Funny Girl'
| Credit: Matthew Murphy

That portrait of Brice as a singular talent and trailblazer is how this revival, directed by Michael Mayer (Spring Awakening) and featuring a revised book from Harvey Fierstein (La Cage aux Folles), aims to make its mark when it opens April 24 at the August Wilson Theatre. And unlike other revived classics, no one has seen Funny Girl in a Broadway house in 55 years.

"Nobody really knows the show," Mayer emphasizes. "Everyone knows the movie. The show is quite different in lots of ways, and now it's even a little bit different than what it was in 1964."

The musical, with lyrics by Bob Merrill and music by Jule Styne, dramatizes the life of actress Fanny Brice as she fights to seize the theatrical career she feels she was born for and hold on to the man she loves, gambler Nick Arnstein (Ramin Karimloo).

Fierstein and Mayer originally partnered on a 2015 West End revival of Funny Girl, but this latest iteration evolves the material further. The London production was developed for a smaller space, and Fierstein has amplified his revisions after being encouraged to "push a little further" by Mayer and producer Sonia Friedman.

Fierstein used a light touch, streamlining the script and strengthening it dramatically. "You want the characters to all makes sense to a modern audience, but you don't want it to look like you fussed with it too much," he says. "I'm not trying to reinvent the wheel, but I want the characters to feel more full. I want you to understand why you care about them."

Barbra Streisand Funny Girl
Barbra Streisand in 'Funny Girl'
| Credit: Columbia/Kobal/Shutterstock

Speaking to EW back in January, just before starting rehearsals, Feldstein described herself as feeling like a diver poised to spring from a board. She spent months researching Brice, watching video footage from the Jewish Women's Archive and learning her lines so she could start the process "prepared but free" to explore.

She's been struck by Brice's height (Feldstein herself is only 5'1", while Brice was 5'6"), but more markedly, Brice's ability to be undeniably present in her work. That vitality is something she hopes to carry with her into rehearsals and infuse the entire production with.

"It's moving to watch a woman fight for what she wants — a career and love," Feldstein says. "We want to honor the time period that she worked in, and also distinguish how far we've come and how far we still need to go in those 100 years between the two."

That includes going against the tendency to pigeonhole women like Brice and Feldstein as quirky sidekicks. "It was clear to me from a young age that I was expected to only play a certain set of roles," Feldstein says. "Similar to Fanny, through sheer determination and will and want, I've been able to honor that instinct and not be boxed in. It is profound to be playing the role I've always wished for, but even more than that, I've tried to expand the idea of what roles people think I should or should not play."

Fanny Brice
Fanny Brice
| Credit: Hulton Archive/Getty

Creating a career with a menu of roles varied enough to please a man in a ruffled shirt continues in Brice's footsteps (and Streisand's too) — carving out space, naysayers be damned. An essential part of that is honoring Feldstein and Brice's distinctly Jewish identity.

"It's very profound for me to be playing such a Jewish icon, both as a person and a character," Feldstein says. "I've always been a very proud Jewish person, and so much of what makes Fanny the most joyful, funny, remarkable human comes from her specific Jewishness. There's so much connective tissue there. It is incredibly profound to get to play one of the most remarkable Jewish women in existence. My grandparents grew up in Brooklyn, and this just feels right there in my bones and in my guts."

Feldstein's celebration of her identity could also be seen as a repudiation of the boxes some might prefer she resign herself to, i.e. not a leading lady. "Streisand didn't look like the other girls; Fanny Brice didn't look like the other girls; Beanie doesn't either," says Mayer. "She's got a very particular physicality and a way of being. Fanny says, 'I'm a bagel on a plate full of onion rolls.' And that's Beanie — she's not like the others, in a very contemporary way."

But the creative team insists that in terms of the production, the comparisons between Barbra and Beanie end there. "The force of her personality and her talent was so extreme, and it was such a revelation for people, that ultimately the show itself became more associated with Barbra than Fanny Brice," Mayer says of the impact Streisand's interpretation had on the show's place in popular culture. "The show ended up suffering a little bit as a piece of writing because the second act became like a Barbra Streisand concert."

Beanie Feldstein
Beanie Feldstein at New York Fashion Week
| Credit: Cindy Ord/Getty

It's high time we reinstate Fanny Brice at the center of her own story. "Being able to return to that story of this woman and having somebody who is her own person embody what made Fanny Brice unique," Mayer says, "you have a chance of reassessing the show on its own terms again."

Adds Fierstein: "We're doing Funny Girl; we're not doing Barbra Streisand's story. Funny Girl should hopefully bring back Fanny Brice. Beanie Feldstein is just so much her own person and such a light on stage. When they cast a lot of revivals, many times the person playing the role is doing an imitation of what's been done before. That's not [this]."

Feldstein echoes the approach. "I worship Barbra," she says. "But I have to focus on my goal, which is to play Fanny and honor Fanny." She shares much with Brice, a vaudeville performer and comedian who rose to fame in the early 20th century, and innately understands her obsession with the stage.

"She's so unapologetic," Feldstein muses. "I struggle as Beanie sometimes at the unapologetic side, but everything else I really connect to, which is that from the day I was able to articulate want or interest, it was always musical theater. [I had] that laser-focused, tunnel-vision, singular drive — that nothing's-going-to-get-in-my-way energy."

Feldstein's zeal and dedication make the work itself the reward. "It's my greatest joy to bring Fanny forward to 2022 audiences, many of whom won't have any understanding of who she was," she says. "Bringing her legacy to a contemporary audience after so long, it's the greatest honor."

And in doing so, Feldstein may just turn out to be the next greatest star.

Order a copy of EW's final print edition here, or find it on newsstands now.

Related content:

Comments have been disabled on this post