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Here Are All The TV/Film Stars in Broadway Plays This Season

Category Broadway

|by Danielle Moore |

Daniel Radcliffe, Bryan Cranston and Kerry Washington are just the tip of the iceberg

Harry Potter, Walter White and Olivia Pope walk into a bar in midtown Manhattan. Though it sounds like the setup for a pop culture junkie joke, thanks to this season’s packed lineup of name-centric Broadway and Off-Broadway plays, the scenario could happen any day now.

Harry Potter himself, Daniel Radcliffe, is currently starring alongside Tony winner Cherry Jones – best known to the non-theater world for her Emmy-winning role as President Taylor on FOX’s 24 – in The Lifespan of a Fact. Bryan Cranston, who rose to the status of Emmy-winning household name playing Breaking Bad’s antihero Walter White, is gearing up to lead an immersive staging of Network, the Ivo Van Hove-directed adaptation of the 1976 Best Picture Winner of the same name. And New York native Kerry Washington, who cut her teeth playing White House “fixer” Olivia Pope on ABC’s Scandal, is both starring in and executive producing American Son. (Her co-star Steven Pasquale, though certainly the lesser known of the pair, has also had a recognizable string of TV stints on series like FX’s Rescue Me and American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson.)

TV and film actors are flocking to Broadway plays this season (Photos: Peter Cunningham; Network; Sophy Holland)

TV and film actors are flocking to Broadway plays this season (Photos: Peter Cunningham; Network; Sophy Holland)

While celebrity swap-ins more often seem to be the habit of long-running musicals than prestigious plays – Oscar winner Cuba Gooding Jr., for instance, recently completed a turn in Chicago – it’s hardly surprising that these mainstream stars have gravitated towards the timely material on offer this season. The Lifespan of a Fact, Network and American Son, are, respectively, about the importance of facts in media coverage, the role TV news plays in distorting reality and police brutality. What may be surprising to the average theatergoer, however, is how many other well-known stars of TV and film are also appearing in New York plays this season.   

More surprising still is how deep the named TV/Film star power runs into the cast – Cranston, for instance, is joined in Network by Kerry Washington’s Scandal costar Tony Goldwyn and Orphan Black’s Tatiana Maslany as a canoodling couple of TV producers.

Other starry play castings include Jeff Daniels as Atticus Finch in Aaron Sorkin’s new adaptation of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. It’s almost ironic that Daniels, whose best known role in Hollywood to date was a Golden Globe-nominated turn as a disenchanted news anchor in HBO’s Network-inspired The Newsroom, is appearing neither in that play nor the similarly news-centric The Lifespan of a Fact, but rather in a new adaptation of a period piece that has been adapted for, and widely produced on, the American stage before. Daniels’ casting here, though, certainly reinforces another apparent theme of new straight plays this season: one of righteously indignant men standing up for the truth.  

                                                      Bryan Cranston in ‘Network’ (Photo: Jan Versweyveld)

On W. 45 St., you’ll find Tony winner and Oscar nominee Joan Allen, perhaps best known for her role in the Bourne films, appearing opposite Michael Cera in the well-received dementia dramedy The Waverly Gallery. Over at the American Airlines Theatre, Paul Dano (Okja, Little Miss Sunshine) and Oscar nominee Ethan Hawke (Boyhood, Dead Poets Society) are gearing up to play brothers in a revival of Sam Shephard’s True West. Emmy and Tony winner Glenn Close has returned to the New York stage in The Public Theater’s Mother of the Maid. And Michael Urie (Ugly Betty) is currently leading the revival of Harvey Fierstein’s Torch Song, at the Hayes Theatre, in a buzzy performance for which he has already received the Howard Ashman Award. 

Even non-American plays like The Ferryman – which qualifies as a “West End import” in the most literal sense, since it shipped its entire 36-person cast straight from London – offers a franchise-friendly face that may be familiar to even the most touristic of Broadway audiences: Star Wars’ Genevieve O’Reilly.

But TV/Film names have even ventured Off-Broadway, with brother-sister acting duo Tyne Daly (an Emmy winner for Cagney and Lacey) and Tim Daly (Madame Secretary) playing a brother-sister character duo in Primary Stages’ Downstairs, a well-received thriller from Theresa Rebeck (who is currently represented on Broadway by Bernhardt/Hamlet). Grease’s most beloved Rizzo, Tony winner Stockard Channing, is currently appearing in Off-Broadway’s Apologia alongside Hugh Dancy (The Path, Hannibal). 

   Daniel Radcliffe, Cherry Jones and Bobby Cannavale in ‘The Lifespan of a Fact’ (Photo: Peter Cunningham)

And that’s before you even consider non-play or –musical, but still celeb-centric, fare. This includes Michael C. Hall (of Dexter fame) starring in the Off-Broadway monologue Thom Pain (based on nothing), as well as comedian Mike Birbiglia’s one-person Broadway show The New One. These pieces are currently playing alongside lighter Broadway fare like Celebrity Autobiography at the Marquis Theatre, which features a revolving door of celebrities – including Lewis Black, Matthew Broderick, Mario Cantone, Tate Donovan, Rachel Dratch and Cecily Strong – undertaking humorous readings of the autobiographies of, well, lesser celebrities.

While casting celebrities has always been a strategy to allow productions to gain traction with investors and audiences alike, such a star-packed straight play season could inevitably mean that some shows are overlooked in favor of others. The plays boasting “names” that have opened so far, though, have received overwhelmingly positive reviews, in contrast to the less enthusiastic reception of some of the season’s new musicals. When it comes to making a star-centric strategy sing, a steady stream of excellent source material just might be the ticket that could, in turn, lure other well-known names to Broadway’s ranks.

For more of the best of Broadway, check out our list of the Top Shows in New York in December 2018.

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