(New York Jewish Week) – Broadway actress Julie Benko won’t be out of a job when “Funny Girl,” in which she plays the Jewish performer Fanny Brice, closes in September.
Instead, Benko, 34, will join the cast of Barry Manilow and Bruce Sussman’s forthcoming Broadway musical “Harmony,” which is set to begin previews Oct. 18 and open Nov. 13 at the Ethel Barrymore Theater, Playbill is reporting.
The new role, like the one in “Funny Girl,” has Benko playing a Jewish woman in a musical about performers from a century ago. “Harmony” follows the true story of the Comedian Harmonists, a popular singing group in 1920s Germany consisting of both Jews and non-Jews. The group was banned from performing in 1934, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported at the time, for including two “non-Aryan” singers.
Benko, who is Jewish and got her start on stage at her local Jewish community center, is playing Ruth Stern, the Jewish wife of a non-Jewish member of the Comedian Harmonists.
“It is rare to be offered the chance to be part of a Broadway show that resonates so deeply on both personal and political levels,” Benko said in a statement.
“Harmony,” which features music from Jewish legend Manilow and lyrics from Sussman, premiered in 1997 and was most recently staged by the National Yiddish Theater Folksbiene during a four-week run at the Museum of Jewish Heritage last year.
“We wrote the show we wanted to write, and we hoped that people would like it and that we would find a home for it. It was just a matter of getting it to New York,” Manilow told the New York Jewish Week ahead of the opening of “Harmony” at the Folksbiene.
The Folksbiene production went on to win “Best New Musical” at the 2022 Off Broadway Alliance Awards.
Since April 2022, Benko has appeared on Broadway as the standby for the Fanny Brice character in “Funny Girl,” a role originated by Barbra Streisand. Her first big step into the role was last June, when then-lead Beanie Feldstein contracted COVID-19 and missed several shows. Benko ultimately filled for Feldstein 26 times, then performed the role full-time last August after Feldstein left the show early and before “Glee” star Lea Michele took the helm in September.
Benko quickly became a fan favorite; according to the New York Times, “she has established herself in theater-loving circles as a performer worth seeing.” In an email to the Times, Michele called Benko “a savior” to the show, and since September Benko has performed the role every Thursday night.
Prior to her role in “Funny Girl,” Benko was a swing for the roles of Hodel and Chava in the 2015 Broadway revival of “Fiddler on the Roof.” As it happens, “Fiddler” was also the show that launched her career; at age 14, she appeared as Hodel in a production mounted by the JCC in Fairfield, Connecticut, where she grew up.
“I’ve covered eight roles in ‘Fiddler,’ and I feel like Fanny is more than all that put together,” Benko told the New York Times. “Plus Tevye maybe.”
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