Lea Michele Sarfati was born in the Bronx, New York to parents Edith Thomasina (Porcelli), a nurse, and Mark David Sarfati, a delicatessen owner-turned-real estate agent. Her mother is of Italian descent (from Rome and Naples), and her father is of Sephardi Jewish ancestry (from Turkey and Greece). Lea was raised Catholic. She grew up in Tenafly, New Jersey, where she eventually attended and graduated from Tenafly High School.
At the age of eight, Lea went with a friend to an open casting call for an up-and-coming musical. After spontaneously deciding to audition, she was offered the role and, two weeks later, she was starring on Broadway. She made her debut on Broadway in 1995 as a replacement for the role of Young Cosette in “Les Misérables”. Following her theatrical debut, Lea was cast in the role of Tateh’s daughter, the Little Girl, in the 1998 original Broadway cast of “Ragtime” and, in 2004, Lea portrayed Shprintze and understudied the role of Chava in the Broadway revival of the musical “Fiddler on the Roof”.
When she was fourteen, Lea was given the role of Wendla Bergmann in Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik’s musical version of “Spring Awakening”. She starred in early workshops, off-Broadway and, finally, originated the role in the Broadway production at the age of twenty. Around the same time that the show was set to go to Broadway, Lea was offered the role of Éponine Thénardier in the Broadway revival of “Les Misérables”. However, she chose to remain with “Spring Awakening”, which debuted on Broadway in December 2006. She was later nominated for a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Actress in a Musical. After two years of starring in “Spring Awakening”, Lea left the show with co-star Jonathan Groff, to pursue other opportunities.
In late 2008, Lea won the role of Rachel Berry on the comedy-drama series Glee (2009), and since the show’s premiere on May 19, 2009, has received worldwide critical acclaim for her performance. She received the 2009 Satellite Award for Best Actress in a Series – Comedy or Musical, and later won three People’s Choice Awards and a Screen Actors Guild Award. Along with her award wins, Lea also received Golden Globe and Emmy Award nominations.
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