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Lea Michele's ‘Funny Girl’ casting is giving ‘Gleeks’ (and everyone else) something to freak out about

Michele is known for her role as Rachel Berry in “Glee.” Many on TikTok and Twitter have pointed out that life imitates art in more ways than one.
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Lea Michele, best known for her role as Rachel Berry in the musical TV show "Glee," was officially tapped on Monday to replace Beanie Feldstein as Fanny Brice in the Broadway musical "Funny Girl."

Unsurprisingly, "Gleeks," aka fans of the series — which includes a whole new generation of viewers who discovered the show on Netflix long after it aired on Fox — haven't talked about much else since on social media.

Rachel Berry, a sympathetic, but egotistical heroine who strove to be in the spotlight, notoriously made her life goal to play Fanny Brice on Broadway, an arc which was prominently part of the show's plotline for many seasons. The character was also obsessed with Barbra Streisand and performed songs from "Funny Girl," including “Don’t Rain on My Parade." Michele also performed the number at the Tony Awards in 2010. 

"I literally can’t believe we are living a real life glee episode," wrote one TikTok user in the caption of their video, which features a clip from "Glee" in which Rachel Berry finally gets her time in the spotlight.

It is among thousands of videos about the news on TikTok, which in recent years has become home to many "Gleeks," old and new, who point out that the Ryan Murphy-created show, while good, can be problematic and sometimes "cringe."

Some of the performances from the show, including those featuring a high school teacher constantly singing sexually suggestive songs to his students, have raised eyebrows years later. Additionally, many fans have speculated about Michele's personality in real life. Since the show came to an end, Michele has been accused of alleged mistreatment toward her former TV show co-stars. In 2020, she issued a lengthy statement on Instagram, where she apologized for her "behavior and any pain" she's caused. Michele has also been at the heart of a long-running conspiracy theory on the internet that she is illiterate. In 2018, she shot down the conspiracy theory during an episode of "Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen." Michele did not immediately respond to request for comment for this piece.

On TikTok, the hashtag #glee has more than 5 billion views, while #funnygirl and #leamichele have racked up almost 780 million and 470 million views, respectively, as of Tuesday afternoon. The general sentiment of many of the social media posts is this: Rachel Berry is iconic, and the casting of Michele as Fanny is pretty spot-on. But the actor herself? Not as likable.

“I’m not really pro-Lea Michele, but I am pro-Rachel Berry,” said Phillipe Thao, 26, who already bought tickets for opening night. Still, he said of Michele, “I would love to see her have a redemption arc."

The drama of it all is spectacular. It’s better than anything Ryan Murphy ever wrote. It’s the villain redemption arc I hate to see, but can’t help but marvel at. What a mess. I love it.

-Summer thomad on lea michele's casting as fanny brice

Others, like Lindsay Campbell, 23, were less enthusiastic, but still enthralled, by the casting decision. News of Michele's new role came a day after Feldstein said she was stepping down on July 31, about two months earlier than expected. With her as the lead, the show had received mix reviews. Theater nerds had speculated for months Michele may take on the role, especially given the buzz following the "Spring Awakening" reunion at this year's Tonys.

“At first, I thought the news was fake and that a large prank was being played on Lea Michele by the internet," Campbell said in a message to NBC News. "I was devastated to learn that it was true, given that 1) I love Beanie Feldstein and 2) I do not feel the same way about Lea Michele.”

Still, Michele “introduced a generation of kids to 'Funny Girl,'” noted "Gleek" Summer Thomad.

"To see her fulfill this lifelong dream could have been so cool if only she weren’t an awful person," Thomad said in a message to NBC News. "Still, the whole situation feels incomprehensible. The drama of it all is spectacular. It’s better than anything Ryan Murphy ever wrote. It’s the villain redemption arc I hate to see, but can’t help but marvel at. What a mess. I love it."

Many online were also quick to point out that life imitates art in more ways than one.

“Even in 'Glee,' eerily similar to Michele’s apparent career trajectory, Rachel did many nasty, harmful things and evaded responsibility beyond just being disliked," Monica Keipp, 20, of Los Angeles, said in a message to NBC News. "She still got all the solos, the lead in the plays, and was accepted into her dream school. While I love 'Glee,' I’d prefer not to live in a world of Ryan Murphy’s creation.”

Not only is Michele cast in the play as the lead, but Jane Lynch, who played the role of nemesis/antihero cheer coach Sue Sylvester on "Glee," will depart the musical right as Michele is set to join it in September. Lynch, who played opposite Feldstein as Fanny Brice's mother, is being replaced by four-time Tony Award nominee Tovah Feldshuh.

“jane lynch leaving the day lea michele is set to start is the most sue sylvester icon behavior extravaganza i have ever laid witness to,” one person tweeted.

TikTok user @suesylvestertiktok, who cosplays as Sue Sylvester, uploaded a video of a fictional scene of Lynch’s character throwing a tantrum after hearing about Michele’s casting.

Lynch did not immediately respond to request for comment.

In an interview with Deadline published Tuesday, she said she and Michele have "been in touch" about the musical.

"You know, it was just a really strong idea to have Feldshuh and Leah premiere together," Lynch told the publication. "That’s the only reason [we won’t appear together.] I adore her. She’s just going to take this show and make it her own. I’m so glad she’s getting the opportunity in real life to do the show and not just on 'Glee.'"

Image: Lea Michele
Lea Michele visits Build Studio on Dec. 5, 2019 in New York City.Gary Gershoff / Getty Images file

Kyle Turner, a film critic and self-identified "Gleek," said the frenzy around the casting could also be connected to the history behind the iconic role of Fanny Brice. The original show and film adaptation served as a star vehicle for Streisand, who won an Academy Award and earned a Tony nomination for her lead performance.

“We often associate Lea Michele and Rachel as being the same person, but there’s this weird blurring of the line between this star persona and the actual star that’s very much attached to the history of ‘Funny Girl,’” Turner, 28, said.

Playing Fanny with success requires “someone who is as hungry for that striving, for that sense of fame, for there to be a platform for her to express that supernova power,” Turner said.

Michele, to some, is just that. And no one can rain on her parade.