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Beanie Feldstein, Broadway, and TikTok: a musical drama built for the creator economy

Two major news stories this week underscore the natural intersection of musical theater and TikTok, where content creators leave no drama undissected.

Beanie Feldstein, Broadway, and TikTok: a musical drama built for the creator economy
[Source Images: Bruce Glikas/WireImage; Getty]

Broadway is having a particularly tumultuous week. Between the news of casting changes at Funny Girl, starring Beanie Feldstein of Booksmart fame, and the closing-date announcement of  musical newcomer Paradise Square, after actors were allegedly not paid and two lawsuits were filed against the show’s producers, theater fans have been buzzing for days. All this news could be overwhelming for a non-Broadway consumer to digest; but theater fans on TikTok have embraced the challenge of breaking down the seemingly endless drama with equally endless vigor.

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TikTok has content for everyone, but musical theater content is especially popular—the hashtag #MusicalTheatre has over 4.5 billion views on the app. Not only are many avid theater fans active on the platform, but TikTok users are notoriously interested in any sort of drama that plays out online—e.g. Couch Guy, Surviving Sophia, Gabby Petito, etc. When those two are mixed together on the internet, a news cycle is born, just as we see with the Funny Girl fiasco that is unfurling right before our eyes.

To summarize, Feldstein is currently starring as Fanny Brice in the Broadway revival, and her performance was met with negative reviews from dozens of critics. Her run as the leading lady was always set to be limited, and it was announced that she would be taking her final bow at the August Wilson Theatre in September. After the reviews, rumors began circulating that Feldstein’s replacement would be announced soon and that Lea Michele—a Broadway alum and former star of TV’s Glee—would replace her.

Michele had long been considered an obvious choice to play Fanny Brice; but after being called out for problematic behavior on the set of Glee by one of her former castmates, Samantha Ware, in 2020, that looked less likely; and Feldstein ultimately landed the coveted role. Two years later, and people have not forgotten about Ware’s allegations (which were backed up by other Glee costars); many were annoyed that Michele was even being considered for the role and then considerably upset when it was announced that she would be taking over for Feldstein as Fanny Brice in September. Feldstein then published an Instagram statement in which she announced that she would be moving up her final performance date to July 31, citing as the reason that producers “decided to take the show in a different direction.”

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@morethantracyt

For real should this be my next Patreon post!! #funnygirl #broadway #musicals #musicaltheatre #theatretok #plussize #plussizeactress #fatrepresentation #fannybrice #beaniefeldstein #leamichele

♬ A-O-K – Tai Verdes

This one line was left up to much interpretation, and that’s where TikTok creators really stepped it up, with Broadway fanatics on the platform analyzing what “different direction” could possibly mean. Many speculated that Feldstein was forced out of the role, or fired, because the show has been losing money since the negative reviews, and especially since the Tony Awards in June at which the show received only one Tony nomination (for Jared Grimes, Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role). One user named @BryantheBA, a business analyst, recently posted a TikTok video showing a marked decline in gross earnings.

@bryantheba

#leamichelle #janelynch #beaniefeldstein #leamichele #funnygirl #business101 #showbusiness #theatertok #theatertiktok #broadwaytok #funnygirlbroadway #broadwayshow #theaterkid #broadwaymusicals #musicaltheater #broadway #boxoffice #barbrastreisand #rachelberry

♬ Don’t Rain On My Parade – Glee Cast

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Another show that has seen a myriad of messiness this past week is Paradise Square. Despite a Tony win for leading actress Joaquina Kalukango, the show—not a huge box office hit—is set to close on July 17, as the producers seemingly have bigger fish to fry with two lawsuits. One, according to Variety, was a federal lawsuit filed by the Actors’ Equity Association for unpaid health, 401(k), and pension contributions, totaling $174,000. Meanwhile, United Scenic Artists filed another lawsuit, “claiming the production owes $156,965.85 in unpaid wages, dues, and retirement contributions,” Variety writes.

This drama, too, made its way over to TikTok, with people picking apart the meatiest parts of the story and adding context for non-Broadway consumers. A TikTok user, aptly named @theatreislife, noted that the show’s closing announcement, made just hours before Funny Girl‘s announcement, was quickly overshadowed. The user also noted that Paradise Square was set to release an original cast album in May, which was already recorded, but allegedly was not released because performers were not paid.

@theatreislife

Replying to @vampyrewinters that cast and crew deserve THE WORLD (and their wages) #paradisesquare #garthdrabinsky #broadway

♬ original sound – Kate Reinking

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@bryantheba

Replying to @alex_gubler96 #PrimeDayDreamDeals #funnygirl #leamichelle #beaniefeldstein #paradisesquare #funnygirlbroadway #theatertok #broadwaytok #theatertiktok #broadway #theaterkid #broadwayshow #showbusiness #broadwaymusicals #business101

♬ There’s No Business Like Show Business – From “Annie Get Your Gun” – Ethel Merman

The whirlwind of this week’s Broadway chaos, and the popularity of musical theater content on TikTok more broadly, underscores the ever-evolving symbiotic relationship between social media and the live theater community. It takes one viral video to create a news cycle; and as they say in show business, all press is good press. We’ve seen this with Be More Chill, which was revived on Broadway after a four-week run at a regional theater because the popularity of the show’s cast album generated a wealth of streams online. More recently, Ratatouille: The TikTok Musical, was born from TikTok users’ combined love for theater and shared across the platform. The online discourse surrounding live theater can generate interest and help shows reach wider audiences, priming young theater fans to become lifelong theatergoers—hopefully.

As for Funny Girl and Paradise Square, the Broadway drama surrounding those productions shows no signs of slowing down. The more details that come out, the more TikTok creators will spark conversations and bring attention to what’s happening behind the curtain.

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