By now, you’ve probably seen the many spectacular reviews of Lea Michele’s rather controversial, but nevertheless six-standing-ovation-worthy debut as Fanny Brice, the lead of Broadway’s Funny Girl. Michele prematurely replaced Beanie Feldstein, who was supposed to play Fanny until early 2023 but supposedly quit after the production “decided to take the show in a different direction,” as Feldstein explained in her farewell Instagram post. And while we hope that the Glee super-villain can read all of the praise lauded at her, we’re not ready to let this show’s shady lead-swap go without some investigation just yet, and neither are its fans.
Reviews of Feldstein’s performance as Fanny were resoundingly lukewarm, with Jezebel’s own Kady Ruth Ashcraft weighing in to say that the nepotism baby was simply “OK” in the role, delivering a character that was “too funny—too goofy and without any sensuality.” But as the New York Post reports, fans are speculating that the reason for her early departure might actually, in part, simply be skin deep: Yesterday, TikTok user Alaina Noelle pointed out that Funny Girl’s casting change also came with a pretty noticeable costume change, which she believes is fatphobic.
“It took [the producers] no more than three seconds to remove the sleeves for Fanny’s final dress after Beanie left,” Noelle noted, after showing two consecutive clips comparing Michelle’s costume (a form-fitting and bedazzled red v-neck dress) to Bernstein’s (a dress with sleeves so big it resembles a sequined curtain, with an inner faux camisole reminiscent of late 2000s fashion).
“And you can say whatever you want about it, but as a bigger-bodied person, it was noticed, felt, and noted,” she continued. Noelle’s critique was backed up by fans who seemingly noticed the same thing. In a duet post, a different TikTok user’s caption pointedly begged the question, “Shorten the sleeves, shorten the dress, because bodies are meant to be celebrated, right?” Others tweeted about their disappointment in the show’s additional billboard rebrand, which includes photographs of Michelle singing, while Feldstein’s only ever used cartoon depictions of her.
“This upsets me they didn’t do this w beanie,” one fan tweeted, according to the New York Post (the tweet has since been deleted). “Maybe it’s just coincidence but like refusing to have real pictures of a plus size actress because it might be bad for advertising is really hurtful. And then immediately doing real photos for the Lea Michele rebrand. Maybe a stretch?”
Fatphobia runs rampant in our society, and particularly so in theater—an industry based in large part on looks. This long-standing issue came to light in a New York Times story from the spring of 2021 (that has since been edited), over a year after COVID-19 caused a global lockdown, which very offensively reported that Broadway would not be returning until September of that year in part because of “casting complications” caused by “some performers [...] gain[ing] weight.” Oof.
A Los Angeles Times piece covering the aftermath of the journalistic blunder revealed that things like “crash dieting and working out” are par for the course for those trying to make it onto the big stage. As Kinky Boots’s Sean Patrick Doyle tweeted shortly after the NYT piece came out, the heavily imposed “Broadway body,” which expects women to be “waif-like” and men to be “Adonis-figured,” is “based in misogyny, toxic masculinity, and shame and generational trauma among gay creatives.”
Whether or not Feldstein’s size has to do with her recasting, to depict Fanny’s costumes so conservatively while the actor starred in it was an injustice to the character entirely. In the 1968 book by Isobel Lennart that inspired the musical, Fanny is quirky, young, and naïve—she’s the furthest thing from matronly as it gets. And I’ll be damned if something as trivial as a bigger waistline takes that away from her.