Of the many roles Jane Lynch has juggled during the pandemic — host of the game show The Weakest Link, costar of a reboot of the sitcom Party Down, guest star on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, singer of jazzy Christmas tunes during a 10-city holiday tour — nothing excites her more than playing matriarch Rosie Brice in the all-new Broadway production of Funny Girl. The five-time Emmy winner began her career on stage and feels a personal bond with the beloved musical, which begins performances March 26 at Broadway’s August Wilson Theatre. The warm and friendly Lynch shared her love of Mrs. Brice and previewed Michael Mayer’s stunning production of Funny Girl during a morning chat with Broadway Direct.
How does it feel to be part of a musical that is getting its first new Broadway production in almost 60 years?
It’s a big deal! This is a musical I have known since I first took breath. I was brought up with Funny Girl on our turntable because it was one of my mother’s favorites, and anytime I got a job in show business, she would leave a message on my machine singing, “Who taught her everything she knows?” The full-circle thing is that now I get to sing that song to Beanie [Feldstein] as Fanny in Funny Girl. So it’s a beautiful culmination of falling in love as a kid with something that has such a strong connection to my mother, who isn’t with us anymore, and then coming around to perform it on Broadway.
What do you love about Funny Girl?
First of all, the music is amazing. I knew this growing up — it was beautiful, it was fun, it had a great beat, as they used to say on American Bandstand. And now, hearing the gorgeous orchestrations and the performances of our amazingly talented ensemble takes my breath away. I sit backstage and listen to the whole rehearsal — I don’t take off when I’m not on stage — and the music just goes deep into my soul. And it’s a great story! The book is really well conceived, the characters are well defined, and the trajectory of it is wonderful.
Are you enjoying playing the kind of supportive mother we all wish we had?
Absolutely. The irony in my own life is that my mother, although she loved this show, did not want me to be an actor.
Isn’t it? I remember her sitting me down when I was about 12. I was at our dining room table in Chicago, writing to agents, believe it or not. She stopped me and said, “Jane, I know you want to be an actress, but not everybody gets what they want.” I think that was more a reflection of how she felt about her life than about me. She didn’t know anybody in show business, so what chance would her kid have of making money? “You should learn to type,” she said, “and you’ll always have a job.” What I love about Rosie is that she’s unsentimental. She loves her daughter ferociously and has every ounce of belief in her. She says [to Fanny], “Go out and get what you want.” I think that comes from the fact that the actual Rosie Brice owned a saloon, of all things, in the early 1900s. You’ve got to be a pretty tough broad to do that, so she doesn’t fool around; she goes straight to the heart of everything.
How did you and Beanie Feldstein develop a mother-daughter bond?
We didn’t even have to talk about it. Beanie is kind of like my character in that she’s straight to the point. She’s a very serious, confident person who’s also hilarious. We just went right into it, and it’s a wonderful, fulfilling relationship.
Why is Beanie a great choice to play Fanny Brice?
She’s a complete original, as Barbra Streisand was. When I was rewatching the movie, one of the things I noticed is that Barbra, as Fanny, stands up for herself and is not afraid of anybody, and Beanie is very much that way too. Fanny has that scene with Ziegfeld, this god who is literally up in the clouds [of the theater], and she tells him what she will do and what she will not do. He’s like, “I beg your pardon?” But he respects her.
Beanie seems to be wearing the pressure of re-creating this iconic character very lightly.
That is an apt description. She’s uberconfident, prepared, and joyful; she works damn hard, but I don’t think she lets self-doubt get in there. She wears the pressure lightly, like a little cloak that she throws off.
Give us a preview of this spectacular production, which has become the must-see event of Broadway’s comeback season.
It’s got it all, just one amazing moment after another. The group numbers “Henry Street” and “His Love Makes Me Beautiful” are gorgeously choreographed, and the tapping in “Rat-Tat-Tat-Tat” will blow your mind. Jared Grimes [as Fanny’s friend Eddie Ryan] is an amazing tap dancer and the sweetest guy. It’s instant pathos when he walks on stage, and it breaks your heart that Fanny chooses Nick [Arnstein] instead of Eddie. But Ramin Karimloo [as Nick] exudes such beauty, and he’s the ultimate gentleman — in real life too — just a lovely man with an incredible voice and so much class. Every day with this cast is a joy.
Fans of Glee and Best in Show may be surprised to learn that you began your career on stage.
I love having my hand in a lot of different pots, but I started out in theater in high school and then studied theater in college. The only school that would accept me at the time was Illinois State, which has a terrific theater department, and then I went to the master’s program at Cornell, where I was stretched every which way. When I got back to Chicago, I was in a Shakespeare company, understudied at Steppenwolf, and joined Equity. Then I moved to L.A. and started getting commercials and guest spots on sitcoms, and I loved that too. Coming back to the theater is full-circle.
And now you’re headed back to Broadway, after playing Miss Hannigan in the Annie revival nine years ago. What’s special about working on the New York stage?
I love the Broadway community. it’s such a wonderful, talented group of people, and they have been so welcoming. And I love the schedule: You have your days to yourself to kind of zen out and then do the show at night. It’s so invigorating. After my experience with Annie, I had this not-so-secret wish to come back to Broadway. I said, “I want to hang out in New York for months on end and have nothing else going on, just my show.” Boy, I am getting my wish, and I could not be more thrilled.
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