Idina Menzel is in talks to play Fanny Brice this fall in the first Broadway revival of Funny Girl, the hit 1964 Jule Styne-Bob Merrill-Isobel Lennart musical that starred Barbra Streisand.
The show would be directed by Michael Mayer and overseen by the U.K. producers Sonia Friedman and David Babani, according to two people familiar with the project. In 2015, Mayer staged a Funny Girl revival at London’s Menier Chocolate Factory (where Babani serves as artistic director) starring Sheridan Smith. The production had a revised book by Harvey Fierstein and transferred to the West End.
Menzel, who voiced Elsa in the animated blockbusters Frozen and Frozen II and originated the characters Maureen in Rent and Elphaba in Wicked, has made no secret about her desire to play the singing comedienne Brice, who was a star of the Ziegfeld Follies. Menzel has performed material from the show on Glee and in concert.
“There’s really only one role I’ve wanted to revive,” she told Gerri Miller in Jewish Journal last month. “Fanny Brice in Funny Girl. ”
Additional casting, financial details and, most important, whether the producers have secured a theater for the revival are unclear. Emails to Sonia Friedman’s office and to a spokeswoman for Menzel weren’t immediately answered. In 2011, producer Bob Boyett scrapped a planned $12 million Funny Girl starring Lauren Ambrose, when four major investors pulled out. Ambrose went on to star in Bartlett Sher’s Lincoln Center Theater revival of My Fair Lady.
In October 2018, Rosie O’Donnell announced that she was set to play Fanny’s mother in a Funny Girl revival starring Lady Gaga and directed by Mayer. O’Donnell later indicated that she was either uncertain about Lady Gaga’s involvement or merely dream-casting.
Streisand played the duckling-to-swan comedian both on Broadway and on film, winning the first of her two Oscars for the part. The score boasts “I’m the Greatest Star,” “Don’t Rain on my Parade” and “People,” which became one of Streisand’s signature songs.
She played Brice as wise-cracking, self-effacing and overtly Jewish. Brice was born on the Lower East Side, which a century ago was home to immigrants from Eastern Europe and called the capital of Jewish America. The revival would arrive amid a number of high-profile antisemitic hate crimes around the nation and abroad.
Menzel, who won a Tony Award for Wicked and had her name immortally maimed by John Travolta at the 2014 Oscars, would bring maturity to the part. Streisand was 21 when Funny Girl opened on Broadway and was 26 when she starred in the movie. Menzel turns 49 in May. Should she get the role, she’d be five years older than Kay Medford when Medford originated the role of Brice’s mother.
Menzel sits squarely within the Broadway demographic. Its Broadway audience is more than two-thirds female and the average theatergoer is 42, according to the Broadway League’s latest demographic study. Nearly 40 percent of the audience for musicals is over 50.
This fall already promises one high-profile musical revival: The Music Man, starring Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster, in the original Funny Girl ‘s first home, the Shubert Organization’s Winter Garden Theatre.
Note: This post was corrected. Menzel’s Tony was for Wicked.