Lea Michele is officially the greatest star. “Funny Girl,” the once-struggling musical revival, has been selling strong and broke the all-time box office record at Broadway’s August Wilson Theatre.
The revival collected $2.005 million over eight performances during the week ending on Dec. 18, setting a benchmark for the highest gross at the August Wilson Theatre and for the production. Prior to “Funny Girl,” the stage version of “Mean Girls” held the house record with $1.994 million in 2018.
The box office success of “Funny Girl” is also notable because it’s been a tough time for Broadway as tourism remains down from pre-pandemic levels. Several musicals and plays, including “Almost Famous,” “KPOP” and “A Strange Loop,” have closed alarmingly soon due to low ticket sales.
“Funny Girl” almost suffered a similar fate when the show opened in April with Beanie Feldstein playing the lead role of Fanny Brice. But she and Jane Lynch, who was replaced by Tovah Feldshuh as Fanny’s mother, departed the production in August after the production was plagued with poor reviews and lackluster turnout.
Since Michele’s casting in September, the box office fortunes for “Funny Girl” have been on the upswing. The August Wilson Theater has been well-stocked at nearly 98% to 99% capacity each night. It’s a vast improvement from summer, when the venue was filled to roughly 74% capacity. That was problematic, financially speaking, because a costly show like “Funny Girl” needs to have a full house to turn a weekly profit.
“Funny Girl” follows Brice on her improbable rise to fame and her stormy relationship with gambler Nicky Arnstein. Along with Michele and Feldshuh, the current company includes Ramin Karimloo as Nick Arnstein and Jared Grimes as Eddie Ryan. In a unique arrangement, Julie Benko performs the role of Fanny Brice every Thursday.
The musical debuted on Broadway in 1964, starring Barbra Streisand as Brice, and received several Tony nominations. The revival marks the first time “Funny Girl” has returned to the Great White Way in 58 years.
Michele certainly had tough shoes to fill, but critics have favorably compared her performance to Streisand’s. In Variety’s review, Frank Rizzo wrote, “What serves the show most is her singing, making a triumph of the first act musical trifecta of “I’m the Greatest Star,” “People” and “Don’t Rain on My Parade.” He continued, “Michele is able to distance herself enough from Streisand’s phrasing to take ownership — or at least to become a savvy caretaker — of the material.”
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