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

By
on

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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