Lea Michele theatre roles we love on stage and screen
The actress began her career as a Broadway child star.
Hey Broadway, here she is! After a nearly 15-year absence, Emmy and Golden Globe Award nominee is making her return to the New York stage. She's the latest headliner at the August Wilson Theatre, where she's leading the company of the first Funny Girl revival as Fanny Brice from September 6.
Most people know Michele as the high school singing sensation Rachel Berry on Glee, which has taken up much of her time in those 15 years off from Broadway. But she actually got her start in the theatre as a child actress, playing small roles before landing her big stage break in the musical Spring Awakening. In her career, she's held all kinds of theatrical roles in TV shows, movies, musicals, and concerts — but even in her non-Glee roles, she often ends up reuniting with her cast members from the show.
Want to know more about how Lea Michele became the greatest star? Learn more about all her theatrical gigs and then get tickets to see her live in Funny Girl on Broadway. Learn more about why to see the Funny Girl musical revival.
Michele has had a long history with Les Misérables, but it began in 1995, when she made her Broadway debut in the musical's first New York production. At eight years old, she starred as Young Cosette, and she also performed as Young Éponine and was the understudy for Gavroche during her time with the production.
When the musical was revived in 2006, Michele was offered the role of older Éponine, but she turned it down to star in Spring Awakening on Broadway instead. She eventually got her chance to play the role, though, singing as Éponine in a 2008 Les Misérables concert at the Hollywood Bowl.
Like the Little Girl she played in Ragtime, who goes on an overseas journey with her father to America at the top of the 20th century, Michele's own journey with the musical took her to multiple countries. In 1998, right after her turn in Les Misérables, she performed in the pre-Broadway premiere of Ragtime in Toronto and later reprised her role on Broadway. One of her co-stars was Brian Stokes Mitchell; he later performed alongside her again as Jean Valjean in the Hollywood Bowl's Les Misérables concert.
Fiddler on the Roof
It's tradition! After a six-year break from Broadway following Ragtime, Michele returned in 2004, playing Shprintze in the fourth Broadway revival of Fiddler on the Roof and understudying a different one of Tevye's daughters, Chava. Her co-stars included Alfred Molina, Randy Graff (most recently on Broadway in Mr. Saturday Night), and Nancy Opel, currently in the latest revival of Into the Woods.
Spring Awakening is arguably Michele's best-known Broadway credit. She landed the lead role of Wendla Bergmann in 2002 while completing a summer at the performing arts camp, Stagedoor Manor. She had to drop out of a production of Sweet Charity at the camp to do Spring Awakening, but when Broadway calls, you answer!
She didn't go straight to Broadway with the show, though — she was initially cast to read for Wendla in early workshops in California and New York. She then performed the role in a 2005 concert version of Spring Awakening at Lincoln Center, and then in the musical's Off-Broadway premiere at Atlantic Theater Company. Finally, in 2006 at 20 years old, Michele originated the role on Broadway, starring opposite Jonathan Groff as Melchior. She earned a Drama Desk Award nomination for Outstanding Actress in a Musical, and she remained with the musical for a year and a half, even turning down a role in a Les Misérables revival to stick with it.
She and the musical had a renaissance in 2022, when the cast reunited for a one-night only concert that became the basis of an HBO documentary, Spring Awakening: Those You've Known. Michele, Groff, and their original co-stars even performed at the 2022 Tony Awards. In hindsight, that was a foreshadowing moment for Michele's long-awaited Broadway return!
Before Funny Girl, Michele hasn't been seen on Broadway since leaving Spring Awakening in 2008. But that's because she was busy with Glee, the Fox comedy-drama series that made Michele a household name, as well as a Golden Globe and Emmy nominee. From 2009 to 2015, she starred as Rachel Berry, the star of her high school's glee club who dreams of making it on Broadway one day. Michele was part of hundreds of music performances throughout the show's six seasons, and she led a Glee Live! In Concert! tour from 2010-2011. You can still stream her renditions of pop and musical theatre songs from the show.
Out of all the classic and contemporary musicals Rachel has sung from, though, Funny Girl is notably the character's favorite. She sings the show's iconic Act 1 closer, "Don't Rain on My Parade," numerous times throughout the show, and in the final season, she gets cast as Fanny Brice in a Funny Girl revival and wins a Tony for it. Talk about art imitating life!
The Rocky Horror Picture Show
The future is hers, so she planned it, Janet! In 2010, Michele played Janet in a 35th anniversary charity concert of The Rocky Horror Picture Show at the Wiltern Theatre in Los Angeles. She was surrounded by an equally star-studded cast including Jack Nicholson, Danny DeVito, Melora Hardin, Evan Rachel Wood, and original Rocky Horror movie star Tim Curry. But most notably, the Brad to her Janet was Matthew Morrison, her Glee co-star!
Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return
From Wicked to The Wiz and beyond, the story of The Wizard of Oz is a popular source of adaptations in theatre, film, and beyond. In 2014, Michele starred in one such adaptation: the animated movie musical Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return. She provided the voice of the yellow brick road-traveling Dorothy Gale, and her co-stars included lots of theatre and film favorites including Martin Short, Kelsey Grammer, Megan Hilty, and Bernadette Peters.
In addition to Rachel Berry's documented love for Funny Girl, Michele herself has shown plenty of admiration for the music that makes us dance. She sang the showtune "My Man" at The Grammys' MusiCares Person of the Year event in 2011, and she regularly talks about her love for the show. So after months of speculation, it was no surprise to fans when Michele landed the role of Fanny Brice in the 2022 Funny Girl revival, following original star Beanie Feldstein. She portrays the 20th-century Ziegfeld Follies performer who put her career on the line for a romance with gambler Nick Arnstein.
She's the second Glee star to join the production. Jane Lynch, who played the musical-hating Sue Sylvester on TV but has a robust theatre career in real life, originated the role of Fanny's mother, Mrs. Rosie Brice, in this revival. The two will not perform together; Lynch departed the show on August 14, and Michele now plays opposite Tovah Feldshuh as Mrs. Brice. But regardless, from Glee to Broadway and beyond, they're the greatest stars.
Photo credit: Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele in Spring Awakening. (Photo by Monique Carboni)