It’s official: Broadway’s new Funny Girl will be played by Six Feet Under star Lauren Ambrose. After speculation earlier this week that Ambrose was in talks for the role, the production confirmed the casting with a release detailing how the revival will open for a short run at Los Angeles’ Ahmanson Theatre from Jan. 15 through Feb. 26 before hitting Broadway in New York City in the spring of 2012. Ambrose will, of course, be taking on the iconic role of Fanny Brice, a character Barbra Streisand made famous in the show’s original Broadway run, beginning in 1964 for 1,348 performances, as well as the 1968 movie version.
“Let’s face it, there is obviously more than a lot to live up to playing Fanny Brice, but I am humbled and thrilled by the opportunity to be a part of this revival,” Ambrose said in a statement. “The character is complex, the music beautiful and challenging. I can’t wait to get into that rehearsal room with the team [director] Bart [Sher] is assembling — wish we could start tomorrow!”
The interesting twist in all this, of course, is that nearly everyone (including us here at EW!) had eyed Glee star Lea Michele for the role, especially after she memorably and dramatically belted Funny Girl standard “Don’t Rain on My Parade” at the 2010 Tony Awards and, in February of this year, performed “My Man” from the show at the annual MusiCares Person of the Year gala dinner, an annual Grammy tradition. (Michele also performed “My Man” in the May 17 “Funeral” episode of Glee this year.) It seems that she was indeed toying with trying to take on the role of Fanny Brice, but her Glee schedule wouldn’t allow it. “There was some very preliminary exploration about her doing it,” a rep for Michele said when contacted by EW, “however she was not available for the production dates so it became a moot point.”
For his part, director Bartlett Sher is already trying to shield Ambrose from the avalanche of comparisons to Barbra Streisand that are sure to come when the show opens. “It’s important that people not see this casting process as trying to find the next Barbra Streisand,” Sher said in a statement. “She is one of a kind. Instead, I really needed someone with whom I could explore the original music and come to terms with Fanny Brice for a new era.”
Ambrose is no stage novice. She’s appeared on Broadway in Awake and Sing! and Exit the King; starred in Shakespeare in the Park productions of Romeo & Juliet and Hamlet; and performed in Buried Child at the National Theatre in London. In fact, there’s video evidence that Ambrose is familiar with the music from Funny Girl, as she’s performed “My Man” at NYC’s cabaret Joe’s Pub.