Funny Girl recently debuted on Broadway for the first time since 1964, and it currently stars none other than Glee‘s main actress and the internet’s favorite meme, Lea Michele, who replaced Lady Bird‘s Beanie Feldstein as lead of the classic Broadway classic revival.
After making her Funny Girl debut earlier this month, Michele appeared on the Sept. 21 episode of The Drew Barrymore Show to open up about the experience with the eponymous host. She spoke candidly to Barrymore about her family, fans’ support, finally attaining her dream of portraying Fanny Brice on the big stage as well as the backlash and controversies surrounding her attitude on set, and her friendship with Hamilton and Mindhunter star Jonathan Groff.
During the interview, Barrymore shared that she was already in tears during Michele’s opening performance, adding that a man behind her cried throughout the show. That man, Barrymore would find out later, would end up being Michele’s father who apparently was “so nervous to see the show, he was like ‘Maybe I shouldn’t sit in the seats, maybe I should just pace in the back of the theater during the show,'” Michele said.
The discussion prompted the 36-year-old to admit that her best friend Groff was also left in tears after the actress’ first show. Here’s everything you need to know about the backstory to Michele and Groff’s friendship and her role in Funny Girl.
Funny Girl’s casting
Michele shares a passion for musical theatre from a young age. The Bronx-born actress made her Broadway debut in 1995 at the tender age of nine as a replacement in the role of Young Cosette in Les Misérables, while also being the understudy for the role of Gavroche. Since then, the singer starred in several other Broadway productions, and even on the big screen, but it wouldn’t be until she was 20 years old that she would get her breakout role as Wendla Bergmann in the 2006 Broadway production of Spring Awakening, where she starred alongside Groff. After two years of portraying Wendla, Michele left the production in 2008 to pursue other endeavors. Not long after, Michele got the role that made her a household name by playing Rachel Berry on the hit musical television show Glee.
Glee premiered in 2009 and was on television for seven seasons until ending in 2015. During the entirety of the show, Michele portrayed the main role of Rachel Berry, an ambitious albeit talented high school student whose dream was to perform on a big Broadway show. The character, much like Michele, had the dream to portray Fanny Brice on Funny Girl, and as they say, the world works in mysterious ways, as Michele would later on fulfill that dream. However, nabbing her dream role wasn’t without hardship, as Michele lost her fiancé and Glee co-star Cory Monteith in 2013, to an accidental overdose. Since then, two other cast members, Mark Salling and Naya Rivera, have also passed away at an early age. Michele was also called out on social media by former Glee co-star Samantha Marie Ware for bullying on set.
In spite of these challenges, the actress was called to take on her dream role and follow in the footsteps of idol Barbara Streisand after Feldstein left the production sooner than expected. Prior to getting her role on the Broadway show, Michele’s career stalled for a while, partly due to past controversies on set, but also because the actress had been working on solo albums and expanding her family with husband, Zandy Reich, with whom she shares a child.
Lea Michele and Jonathan Groff are attached at the hip
Since their Spring Awakening days, Groff and Michele have been absolutely inseparable. The duo met during the auditions for the main roles on Spring Awakening and immediately hit it off. Michele even told People that they would have met regardless of the auditions, sharing, “It just so happened that we met to do this show, but I feel like we would’ve met some way or another in life because we were meant to be in each other’s lives.”
Michele and Groff’s friendship would hit a bump once the actress started developing feelings for her co-star. After portraying characters who had to fall in love, Michele couldn’t help but translate those feelings to real life, however, Groff wouldn’t be able to reciprocate the romantic bond. In 2008, Groff came out as gay, though Michele knew of her friend’s sexual orientation before he publicly announced it. In the same interview with People, Michele described their friendship during the show.
I think he felt safe with me because he knew that I knew and that we could be best friends, and our relationship just grew and grew to the point that we would do the show and then we would go home together,” Michele explained. “That’s why Jonathan and I became so close. We were so intertwined.
Since then, the friendship between the two actors would only grow closer, to the point where Michele even taught Groff about female anatomy. Michele and Groff’s friendship would once again take shape in the form of fictional characters, this time on screen. The singing duo would also co-star on Glee, with Groff taking the role of Jesse St. James, a rival of Rachel Berry’s glee club and also one of Berry’s love interests. Their characters would also end up together on the hit show, after the passing of Cory Monteith, and consequently, his character. Spring Awakening also got a reunion show on stage in 2022, where both Michele and Groff took over their 2006 fictional counterparts.
Currently, the actors have both their schedules filled to the brim as Michele is still currently on the big stage busy with Funny Girl and Groff with the upcoming musical, Molly and the Moon. Nonetheless, everyone can expect to see more of this long-term duo. After all, Michele even once admitted she wanted to carry Groff’s baby in the future — one can only imagine the talent that could come out of this surrogacy agreement.