Stage and screen star Jane Lynch has moved up her departure from Broadway's Funny Girl revival at the August Wilson Theatre, where she stars as Mrs. Brice. Previously announced to be appearing through September 4, Lynch set an earlier exit date after her surprise Emmy nomination for Only Murders in the Building strained her schedule, with her category set to be handed out September 1. Her final performance will be August 14.
With just one week left in the revival, we spoke with Lynch to talk about all things Funny Girl and Rosie Brice, including handing over the reins to Tovah Feldshuh, who's set to begin as Mrs. Brice opposite Lynch's Glee co-star Lea Michele as Fanny September 6.
Why are you leaving Funny Girl earlier than originally announced?
Jane Lynch: I have a vacation August 14th, and then I had just like five shows after that, and it's a six-hour flight, so I thought, “let's end it now.” It has nothing to do with not wanting to see Lea. I text with Lea. She and I are fine. I'm thrilled for her. I love working with Julie. I loved working with Beanie. There's no drama here. None.
But there has been a lot of drama surrounding this production in the media. What has it been like having to be funny every night while that’s hanging in the air?
Well, that's the thing about being in a play—you leave all of that behind as soon as you step through the stage door, and when you're in the theatre, it's all about putting on a play. That's my favorite thing about live theatre, that you're a part of a group and you kind of forget your own individual identity and work for this group on putting on the show. I bet if you asked every performer on Broadway, or anywhere they're doing a play, they would say the same thing. It's a sacred space. We just keep it positive. Nobody talks about that stuff. If anybody's reading it, they keep it to themselves. We're there for each other. And that's why I love it so much.
What has the energy been like backstage and with the company as a whole?
It's happy! We've been doing this now for about 140 shows, and we know each other very well and it's like family. It's great energy—who doesn't wanna be putting on a show on Broadway? And we've stayed open! It's really great.
What made Mrs. Brice special to you?
I grew up with this musical. I know every breath of the cast album. I shared my love of musicals in general, but particularly this one, Funny Girl, with my mother, so it means a lot to me. I thought Kay Medford [the original Mrs. Brice on Broadway and in the 1968 film adaptation] was so good. I thought she was so wonderful, and she totally inspired what I'm doing. I had dinner with Tovah Feldshuh the other day. We talked about all things Funny Girl and the role, and one of the things that we both love about it is just how ferociously supportive and loving Mrs. Brice is of Fanny. Fanny is a well-loved kid, and when children are well-loved and supported, they have confidence, and they can go on in spite of all the odds and do great things. I think this is one of those stories.
What did you tell Tovah about the character?
The first thing she said to me was, “Tell me about your Mrs. Brice. What is it about her?” And I told her it's that ferocious love. You know, she is a Jewish mama, and so she agreed with me. I'm not a mother. I have animals, but we bonded on that...the depths of affection and protection for our young. It was just a lovely conversation. We talked about some of the jokes, and she asked me about a couple of the lines. I told her there were a couple of lines that are still kind of confounding me with my poker ladies, Toni DiBuono [playing Mrs. Strakosh] and Debra Cardona [playing Mrs. Meeker]. We're still working on some of the bits every night. We're trying something new in a couple of our poker lady moments that we don't feel like we nailed. Every night we come up to each other and say, “Okay, let's try it this way.” I filled Tovah in on some of that. It was really fun to get down into the nitty gritty. In fact, as I was leaving, I said, “I just love taking this shit apart.” And she said, “I do, too.”
What surprised you when you started working on the show and the role after loving it for so long?
As I was working at it in rehearsal, my good friend, [voice over coach] Marla Kirban—she's been my friend for decades—passed away in October. She was a Jewish mama, and she was Rosie Brice in a way. I almost feel—and I told her daughter this—I feel like she inhabited me. I found myself doing things and saying things in a way that it was like, "Am I being Marla right now?" That was a really cool thing. She informed so much of what I would do up there on the stage. Marla was still alive when I got the role, and she was like, "Goddamnit, I'm not gonna be able to see it." She didn't think she'd live that long...but she found her way in.
What about Mrs. Brice will you take with you?
There is a confidence and a solidity in her affection for people. I discovered that as I was performing it. I have a relationship on and off stage with all of the ensemble, and it's infected the way I deal with people. It's like the maternal part of me has come out, the lion who will protect her cubs. It’s fun to walk through life like that. It’s really awakened that in me.
Any particularly favorite stage moments, onstage or off, that you’ll miss?
I'm gonna miss the whole damn thing. This show is like a machine—everybody is a moving part, including me. My moving part is not only what I do on stage, but what happens off stage and going upstairs and changing my costume and coming downstairs—it's all ritual. I do fist bumps with about four different people at the same time. I eat my peanut butter cups at the same time. The chorus will be singing on stage, and I will be singing as I'm walking up the stairs with them at the same time. I do the same thing over and over, night after night. And I love it. There’s something so pleasing about that routine. You’ve built this track that you operate fresh every night. It's never boring. It has that element of the first time every night. That's why I do theatre. That's why I keep coming back. I love that experience.
As a performer who lives primarily in film and TV, what makes performing on stage unique and special to you?
The immediate response from the audience. They are 50% of the experience—if you don't have 'em, you don't have live theatre. When the house lights go up at curtain call and you can actually look into their eyes, it's such a delight and they're so happy and they're on their feet. We sing a little bit of “People” at the very end and we encourage them to sing with us and—it's just a glorious thing. We're social creatures. We come together and we put on a show and everybody's gone through their own emotional journey while watching the show, and then at the very end, we all come together and look at each other—look at each other's eyes. It's just a joy. And, of course, film and TV don't have that.
And can we expect you back on Broadway?
I hope so, yeah. I would love to. It’s the actor's life for me, man. I love being on stage.