Broadway to Hollywood or Hollywood to Broadway: Which is the better direction?

 
 

I haven’t been to the theater
for about a month and am starting to experience withdrawal. In an effort
to stave off physical symptoms, I searched the arts section of The
New York Times
for interesting theater articles. I came across this one by theater critic Charles Isherwood.
Without rehashing the entire article, it’s basically Isherwood observing
that while actors used to go from Broadway to Hollywood, it’s now
more common to go from Hollywood to Broadway. He highlights Claire Danes as an example of the new trend and

Amy Ryan as an anomalous exception.

Three guesses which model I
prefer.

I had actually been thinking
about these two actresses prior to reading the article, so I found it
particularly interesting. I’ve been following the coverage of Claire
Danes in Pygmalion — because I like her and I because I feared
it was poor casting.

And less than an hour before
I read the article, an actor friend had been raving about Amy Ryan’s
performance in Gone Baby Gone.

Isherwood notes that reviews
of Pygmalion have been all over the map. (Check out the good, the mixed and the bad.) Now, I like Claire Danes, who has
been getting a lot of mediocre-to-lousy
press
this year
due to Evening. (Unlike most people, I didn’t hate

Evening. Of course, I also liked Ishtar. And I didn’t like
Good Will Hunting
.) But I wouldn’t have cast her and was concerned
that this role might prove a catastrophe. Could she have picked a more
difficult role? Or one more dependent on consistent, spot-on accents?
Or one more associated (in musical form) with luminaries Audrey Hepburn
and Julie Andrews?

She has not been universally
panned, so the casting was not an obvious failure, and she appears to
have handled the accents well. But a better Broadway (or West End, for
that matter) talent could likely have delivered more to audiences. (Of
course, there’s always the question of whether audiences would have
paid to see a classically trained but lesser-known Eliza.)

Claire Danes is not the only
movie/TV actress on Broadway these days. Jennifer Garner
is getting mediocre reviews as Roxanne to Kevin Kline‘s
Cyrano in the Broadway revival of Cyrano de Bergerac. (He

is getting fantastic reviews. But then, he is an amazing Broadway
actor — I can attest to this, having seen him in On the Twentieth
Century
and The Pirates of Penzance.)

So, neither Danes nor Garner
is doing much to change my views on stunt-casting. However, I do freely
concede that there are actors primarily known for movie work who are
fantastic on Broadway.

Kathleen Turner, for
example, was quite good (not to mention naked onstage about 10 feet
from me!) as Mrs. Robinson in the 2002 production of The Graduate.
And she was phenomenal in the 2005 revival of Who’s Afraid of Virginia
Woolf?
Phenomenal, I tell you. She did not win the Tony Award, and
that was only OK because Cherry Jones won it for Doubt.

But still, stage training makes
for better actors. Even Megan Cavanaugh
noted this in response to a reader question in Michelle Paradise’s
"Exes & Ohs" Video Blog: Episode 4
. And it seems that Amy Ryan’s performance
in Gone Baby Gone illustrates the value of this kind of training
and experience.

I have not seen Amy Ryan on
stage — yet — but I understand from theater friends that she is extraordinary.
According to Isherwood, she was the highlight of the 2005 revival of
A Streetcar Named Desire
. Here she is in that production, with
Natasha Richardson
‘s hand upon her thigh.

Given the chasm separating
how I would like theater to be cast and how it is actually cast, it
would be helpful for me to lose (or at least soften) my biases. Any
more examples of good screen-to-stage transitions?

 
 

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