Though she gained wide experience in several Broadway musicals, actress Lea Michele became a star thanks to her energetic portrayal of a glee club captain in the critically acclaimed musical drama, “Glee” (Fox, 2009- ). While she captivated audiences with her vocal prowess on the stage, it was the small screen that endeared Michele to millions of fans, thanks to her comic charm – not to mention a rousing rendition of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” – as a high school misfit looking for somewhere to fit in. Prior to her star-making turn on “Glee,” she made waves on Broadway as a 19th century adolescent coming to terms with love and sexuality in the controversial musical “Spring Awakening” (2006), which earned her a Drama Desk Award nomination. With a commanding presence, powerful vocals and uncanny comedic timing, Michele emerged as an endearing talent destined for great things.
Born on Aug. 29, 1986 in The Bronx, NY, Michele was raised an only child in Tenafly, NJ by her father, a deli owner, and her mother, a nurse. She began acting as a child, attending Stagedoor Manor, a performance camp that boasted alumnae such as Natalie Portman and Robert Downey, Jr. When she was eight years old, Michele accompanied a friend on an open casting call for a production of “Les Miserables” and won the part as Young Coseette, making her Broadway debut in 1995. Three years later, the actress joined the 1998 original Broadway company of “Ragtime,” playing a young Latvian immigrant who travels to America with her widower father. In 2000, Michele made her television debut with a guest starring role on an episode of the paramedic drama, “Third Watch” (NBC, 1999-2005). She returned to the stage in 2004 for a Broadway revival of “Fiddler on the Roof.”
Michele was only 14 years old when she was cast in a pivotal lead role for the musical “Spring Awakening,” from lyricist/author Steven Sater and songwriter Duncan Sheik. The actress originated the role of Wendla Bergmann, a young German discovering her sexuality in a repressed society of the late 19th century. The controversial musical was first performed at workshops and in off-Broadway theaters, but eventually made its way to Broadway in 2006. The show opened with the explosive number, “Mama Who Bore Me,” which Michele performed with the fire and guttural passion that was worthy of a seasoned stage performer. Meanwhile, the end of the first act required her to perform a controversial sex scene, which she accepted as being nothing more challenging or risky than any other part of the show. “Spring Awakening” became an instant classic, beloved by critics and theater fans, while winning the 2006 Tony Award for Best Musical. For her part, Michele was nominated for Lead Actress in a Musical at the 2007 Drama Desk Awards.
After her triumphant performance in “Spring Awakening,” Michele left the show in May 2008. She appeared in various touring productions and special events, including a “Les Miserables” concert at the Hollywood Bowl, which held a successful three-night run in August 2008. But it was only a matter of time until Hollywood took notice of the Broadway darling. Her opportunity arrived in 2009 when Michele was cast in the musical comedy series, “Glee,” playing Rachel Berry, the determined and put-upon captain of a high school glee club. Michele’s character was reminiscent of Reese Witherspoon’s hungry-for-glory Tracy Flick in “Election” (1999), but with a wider octave range. Critics praised “Glee” – created by Ryan Murphy of “Nip/Tuck” fame – when the pilot aired in May 2009, while Entertainment Weekly named Michele and co-star Cory Monteith “Summer’s Must Songbirds” in its 2009 “Summer Must List” issue. Meanwhile, the actress received a nomination for Breakout Star Female at the 2009 Teen Choice Awards for her role on the critically acclaimed series. Even more importantly, she earned a nod at the Golden Globe awards for Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series – Musical or Comedy.