Beanie Feldstein on Starring in Broadway Revival of ‘Funny Girl’: ‘I’m in a State of Shock’

The bar at the August Wilson Theater, a lounge the theater’s owner Jordan Roth opened last year, was quiet after the curtain fell over Broadway’s first revival of “Funny Girl.”

Save the chatter of interviews to the press and some small talk over sandwiches laid out for those who stayed behind, the atmosphere inside the theater in New York City on Sunday was hushed, subdued even, after the opening night of a historic musical: For the first time in 58 years, not since it first opened with an unknown Barbra Streisand in its leading role, “Funny Girl” is again on Broadway.

Directed by Michael Mayer with a revised book by Harvey Fierstein, the revival stars Beanie Feldstein as Fanny Brice.

In the lobby of the theater, leaning against the wall after a barrage of press and her opening night bows, Feldstein could use a second to breathe.

“I’m a woman who needs to be distracted,” she said, thoughtful and sincere with her words. “Really, I’m in a state of shock, if I have to be honest. It’s my dream coming true, my whole life.”

Indeed, “Funny Girl” has been around long enough — and levied its generational influence through Streisand — to mold a second leading lady in its own image.

“My passion and my commitment and my care for the story is an overwhelming sensation, which leads to perfectionism and passion and needing to do right by Fanny every second,” she unburdened, the lobby’s hush now a salve.

“At the beginning of the musical, I have 38 seconds to go from being Fanny in her mid-30s to being Fanny at 17. My wig is pulled and costume torn down, and there’s that Fanny that wants to be on stage, and that’s how I felt my whole life,” she told Variety.

Truthfully, the forces that are bound to pull and tear at this revival are impossible to sort out. However tempting the bait, it’s no use straining to judge whether “Funny Girl” succeeds in digging itself out from Streisand’s shadow — or asking its leading lady to talk about it. “Funny Girl’s” Fanny Brice is Streisand. There’s no separating the two. On its own, “Funny Girl” isn’t a great musical. Fierstein is the first to admit it. And Feldstein isn’t Streisand and shouldn’t try to be.

Ramin Karimloo, the musical’s strapping, charming leading man, brushes it all off, not unlike Nicky Arnstein.

“Sometimes I’m just happy to stay in my lane,” he told Variety after the show, reaching for his drink. “All we can do is serve the story. I do my thing, and so does Beanie.”

“I don’t get those royalties,” he continued, addressing “Funny Girl’s” outsized influence. “I don’t get those legalities. But you hope it’s a hit. You hope everyone leaves feeling they’ve got their money’s worth, entertained and satisfied, but not everything has to be so deep.”

Jane Lynch, who plays Brice’s mother in the revival, had only one thing to say after the show really, sniffing around the table of snacks in the lobby (Pretzels, she decided). “For the love of God, sit back and enjoy the show.”

So, what’s one to say about the momentous second opening of “Funny Girl” on Broadway? Theatergoers have waited five decades to see a new Fanny Brice and very few are interested in witnessing a second Streisand. “A lot of people who said they saw ‘Funny Girl’ never did,” director Mayer told Variety before the show. “It’s a part of our collective memory in a way, something we’ve told ourselves about and created.” But should audiences expect a rave new revival? Should we all be nipping at Feldstein’s ankles? Can we ever watch “Funny Girl” in a vacuum, or capture lightning twice?

Perhaps Fierstein, braced by his inexhaustible irreverence, answered best. Asked before the show what revisions were made, what was cut, left in, reworked — Asked another way: “Did you make a hit?” — he shrugged.

“Ah,” he gestured, “that’s none of your business.”