One Very Special Person: How Beanie Feldstein Found Her Way to Fanny Brice

It never occurred to three-year-old Beanie Feldstein, when she requested a Funny Girl–themed birthday, that the party store near her family’s Los Angeles home wouldn’t have a Barbra Streisand section. “Other people had Elmo or Little Mermaid balloons. I thought my mom could just go to Party City and buy Barbra Streisand balloons,” the now 28-year-old actor says. Feldstein’s mother, Sharon, did her best with the assignment, sending out invitations declaring, “Our Funny Girl is turning 3” and fashioning a pint-size version of the leopard-print coat and pillbox hat Streisand famously wears as Fanny Brice, the groundbreaking early-20th-century comedienne, immortalized first on stage and then in the 1968 film.

A quarter century after Feldstein’s birthday-turn as Brice, she will reprise the role, this time on Broadway, when Funny Girl officially opens in late April at the August Wilson Theatre. “The expression ‘lifelong dream’—that statement feels very applicable to me,” says Feldstein. “It still does not feel tangible or real.”

On a brisk morning in early February, it is beginning to feel slightly more real as Feldstein enters the August Wilson Theatre for the first time not as an audience member. (She was last there to see Mean Girls.) Rehearsals will begin the following week, but Feldstein is here for her Vogue shoot. The theater is a symphony of preshow activity. Slave Play closed less than a week before, and the posters and marquee still bear that play’s signage. Onstage the rigging crew bangs pipes, drills into cinder block, and catches clanking chains descending from the rafters.

Feldstein makes her way upstairs to prepare for the shoot with her “work husbands,” hairstylist Peter Butler and makeup artist Matin Maulawizada—a pair who have worked with Feldstein since 2017. Wearing emerald velour Gucci-logo sweatpants (her first major campaign for the brand appeared this spring) and a waffle-weave bathrobe, she starts to tell Maulawizada how much she and her partner, film and TV producer Bonnie Chance Roberts, loved And Just Like That…. (Maulawizada did Kristin Davis’s makeup for the show.) “We’re obsessed!” says Feldstein, who spent the month of January holed up at her parents’ country house in the Berkshires to avoid the omicron surge. She goes on to tell everyone about her baking exploits— successful scones, failed oatmeal cookies—all gluten-, dairy-, and nut-free to address her and Roberts’s various allergies. Feldstein is severely allergic to a laundry list of items, from dairy to cats to two of the most common preservatives found in makeup. “Wanna see a photo of when I had a reaction?” she asks, before showing me an image of her face, swollen and blotched like a slice of mortadella, the result, she explains, of a recent plane trip where a cat had been on an earlier flight.

Feldstein’s eyes are the size and color of chestnuts, and they widen as she peppers everyone in the dressing room with questions. Her own answers are consistently enthusiastic; she uses adverbs with abandon. “This one can’t stop!” says Butler affectionately after requesting two minutes of stillness to set her hair in a clean half-pony. “She should have been Italian. You talk with your whole body!” Feldstein smiles sheepishly, then as soon as she is allowed to speak again, leans forward conspiratorially and, with an eye on my pregnant stomach, asks, “Do you know what you’re having? Not that it matters, gender is a construct! But it’s still fun to ask.”

“She’s very maternal in her energy. She can’t just come to work and then wash her hands of it. The relationships seep in,” says Ben Platt, Feldstein’s best friend since they attended Harvard-Westlake high school in Los Angeles. “And she’s a worrier, she’s a Jew—we’re both major hypochondriacs.” When Platt and Feldstein met at a bat mitzvah in seventh grade, they spent the entire evening talking about musical theater and their dream roles. “Both of us idolize Babs, so that was always at the top of the list. For Beanie, the pinnacle was always Fanny Brice.”

Feldstein in a Gucci dress. Nina Ricci hat. Kenneth Jay Lane earrings.

Rumors of a Funny Girl revival have swirled on Broadway for over a decade, first with a stalled 2011 Bartlett Sher production slated to star Lauren Ambrose, abandoned due to investor complications. (Feldstein actually auditioned, at age 17.) Then there’s the current production, which reportedly considered Idina Menzel for the title role before settling on Feldstein. This show will mark the first time Funny Girl has returned to Broadway since the original, almost 60 years ago, and the show, with a revised book by Harvey Fierstein, also stars Jane Lynch as Fanny’s mother and Ramin Karimloo as Fanny’s husband, Nicky Arnstein. 

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