A Conversation with Lea Michele

Former Glee star Lea Michele talks about her Tenafly roots, her current tour with Darren Criss, her love of Barbra Streisand and her favorite Jersey restaurant.

Photo courtesy of Marcello Ambriz

New Jersey Monthly: You went to Tenafly High School. What was that experience like?
Lea Michele: I did the plays. I was on the volleyball team. I was a varsity debater. It was a really positive and great time of my life where I got a great education, but was also able to just be a normal girl.

NJM: You made your Broadway debut in Les Misérables as Young Cosette when you were only eight. Is it true you didn’t plan to audition?

LM: Yeah, there was an open call in Englewood for the show, and I went with a friend just kind of for fun. I ended up getting it, and two weeks later I was performing on Broadway.

NJM: Did you take acting and singing lessons?
LM: I kind of got my education in [Les Misérables]. I never really took a lot of singing or acting classes. I just kept working, and then the more I worked, I learned from the people around me.

NJM: You were Emmy nominated for your role in Glee. What was it like portraying Rachel Berry for six seasons?
LM: Playing Rachel Berry was unbelievable. She’s such a fierce, incredible, funny, loving character. To get to do two things that I love­—singing and acting—was an amazing experience.

NJM: The show ended in 2015, but the Glee fan base remains strong. What does that mean to you?
LM: A lot of the kids who were too young to watch Glee when it was on TV are watching now. So you have a whole new generation that’s getting exposed to the show and falling in love with it. I’m really proud to have been a part of something that really made such a difference for so many people and continues to do that. 

NJM: In May, you go on tour with fellow Glee alum Darren Criss. What can the audience expect?
LM: It’s going to be a combination of songs from Glee, from our solo records, from Broadway­—so people are going to get to see a lot of stuff. It’s definitely going to be a really fun, spontaneous, intimate show.

NJM: Any chance that other Glee cast members will join you on the tour?
LM: Darren and I want to give the opportunity to our fans to just have a good one-on-one experience with the two of us. But there might be someone that might come somewhere along the way.

NJM: You are a big Barbra Streisand fan. Why is she such an inspiration?
LM: Growing up, I always listened to Barbra Streisand. I absolutely loved her voice, I loved all of her movies, and I just think she’s someone who stayed true to who she really is, and she used her uniqueness to get where she is today. I always admired that.

NJM: Do you ever want to get back on Broadway?
LM: To perform on the stage is such an honor. I’ve been fortunate enough to get to explore these other avenues that I love as well. Right now I just kind of go wherever the road leads me. If the road ever leads me back to Broadway, I would be happy.

NJM: Any favorite places that draw you back to Jersey?
LM: I just went out to dinner with all of my girlfriends from Tenafly, and we were talking about how much we miss some of the food. There is this one restaurant in Englewood, it’s called Baumgart’s Café, and it’s a Chinese restaurant. Sometimes we leave Manhattan just to eat there. It’s so good.

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