Saturday, July 17, 2010

Trends of the Decade: Hollywood vs Broadway

This trend has been going on as long as there has been a "Broadway" and a "Hollywood."  But in recent years, it has really become pronounced.  That is high-profile movie stars are making big, splashy Broadway debuts, do the run in a limited engagement (12 - 16 weeks on average), make the money for the producers, talk about the prestige and not the money for doing Broadway, and then leave town feeling validated as an actor.  Things really came to a head just this past season when several of the major Tony nominations and eventual wins went to actors who are known primarily for being screen stars in shows that would be closing very shortly after the awards were handed out.  Some in the community have even rallied to have some sort of rule put into place to prevent "movie stars" from taking awards from "Broadway actors."  That debate is really for another blog entirely.

Our new Broadway Hero: Benjamin Walker (center)
in Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson

And it does not seem to be abating anytime soon.  Just this week, high-profile movie stars Halle Berry, Samuel L. Jackson, Will Smith and Jada Pinkett-Smith were announced for imminent projects coming to Broadway.  Of course, there is the ultimate counter to that in young Benjamin Walker, a relative unknown, who might have lost his big movie break by declining a role in the next X-Men movie, so that he could star in the Broadway opening of Blood Bloody Andrew Jackson, a project he has been attached to for years.  Good for him for being loyal and seeing things through, right?  And no one seems to be protesting two film stars, Oscar nominee (and Tony winner) James Earl Jones and Oscar winner (and Tony winner) Vanessa Redgrave, who will be starring in a limited-engagement of Driving Miss Daisy.  Perhaps the difference is that they are perceived as BOTH film and stage stars by their perspective camps.

Oscar winner Halle Berry
may be Broadway bound

So, I looked over the openings of the first decade of the 21st Century, and made a few lists (none of which, I'm sure, are complete) to see just how much this trend is a trend and to see if the Broadway acting commuinty has a legitimate gripe (in terms of jobs versus awards, which I won't get into, except to say this: if you are doing this just to win awards, find another job).  I made a list of Broadway one-timers, a list of actors known to the public at large for their TV/film careers, but do Broadway regularly, and a list of actors who are thought of first as Broadway folk, but have managed a decent career in TV/film.

Stage vet Paul Rudd with Broadway newcomer
Oscar winner Julia Roberts

Broadway "One-timers":  Bradley Cooper, Julia Roberts, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Scarlett Johansson, Abigail Breslin, Susan Sarandon (well, she did do a show that ran a week in 1972), Reba McIntyre, Geoffrey Rush, Lucy Liu, Sean Hayes, Juilanna Marguiles, David Schwimmer, Amanda Peet, Sally Field, Katie Holmes, Daniel Craig, Jason Biggs and Christina Applegate.  (Some of these folks, I'll bet, will be back.)

Movie stars of Broadway's
Exit the King: Rush and Sarandon

Christopher Walken on stage
(with movie actor Sam Rockwell)

And Christopher Walken in a movie based on a Broadway
musical which was based on a movie...

TV/Film Stars who "do Broadway" regularly:  Christopher Walken, Sarah Jessica Parker, Al Pacino, Hugh Jackman, Denzel Washington, Ralph Fiennes, Paul Rudd, Tony Shalhoub, Angela Lansbury, John Lithgow, Kelsey Grammer, Diane Weist, David Hyde Pierce, Vanessa Williams, Tom Wopat, Brooke Shields, Mercedes Ruehl, Matthew Broderick, Bebe Neuwirth, Richard Thomas, Whoopi Goldberg, Kathleen Turner, Delta Burke, Anthony LaPaglia, Alicia Silverstone, Marissa Tomei, Tyne Daly, Megan Mullally, Ana Gastyer, Phylicia Rashad...  (It is interesting to think about how many on this list actually started on Broadway...)

Broadway and TV/Film
 regulars Rashad and Jones

Broadway "Stars" who do TV/Film regularly: Alan Cumming, Christine Baranski, Bernadette Peters, Elaine Stritch, Mary Louise Parker, Cheyenne Jackson, Jane Krakowski, Harvey Fierstein, Donna Murphy, Aaron Tveit, Christopher Sieber, Gregory Jbara, Christine Ebersole, Harriet Harris, Liev Schrieber, Matthew Morrison, Lea Michele, Kristin Chenoweth, Patrick Wilson, Gina Gershon, Norbert Leo Butz, Kate Reinders, Laura Benanti, Patti LuPone, Faith Prince, Nathan Lane, Kerry Butler, Cherry Jones...  (It is interesting to think that even the general public is starting to know some of these people as "Broadway actors on TV shows.")

Christopher Sieber does a lot of Broadway, like Shrek: The Musical...

... and has also starred in two TV series, Two of a Kind and It's All Relative
(along with Broadway's Harriet Harris and John Benjamin Hickey)

Granted, I am sure I missed a few from this decade, but of that top list only 3 have won Tonys, and the bottom two lists are virtually even.  I wonder how much anyone has to complain about.  Still, these high-profile limited engagement things seem to becoming more of a norm, so I can understand where everyone is coming from.  And it is a double edged sword - while it does bring people to Broadway who might otherwise not come, and might make them come back for other shows, it still limits the number of people who can see these stars, and as Fences showed us, it can drive up ticket prices.

In the long run, my money is on the folks who can sustain a respectable career, be it on Broadway alone or on Broadway with TV and film thrown in between Broadway gigs.

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