While there is no denying the fact that big names bring big box office numbers on Broadway (or in some cases are the grease that keep the wheels spinning — hey, “Chicago!”), there have been many celebrities to leave a distinct mark with their talent alone. It has even been said that many actors sign on to blockbuster films just so they can afford to “go back to the theatre.”
Here are 10 Hollywood stars not widely known for their stage work who have recently lit up the Great White Way performing in a musical:
1. Hugh Jackman, “The Boy From Oz” (2003)
While he was recognized worldwide as Wolverine, Hugh Jackman swapped his claws and brooding emotion for sparkles and sequins to make his Broadway debut. In the lead role of Peter Allen, Jackman won a Tony Award for “The Boy From Oz.” He loved the experience so much that in 2006, he reprised the role for the Australian arena tour, directed by “High School Musical” and “Hocus Pocus” legend Kenny Ortega.
Fun Fact: For some audience members, it was hard to shake Jackman’s “X-Men” vibe. “During ‘The Boy From Oz,’ there was one scene where I was kissing Jarrod [Emick], who played my boyfriend,” Jackman told The New York Times, “and an audience member yelled, ‘Don’t do it, Wolverine!’ I lost it. I literally lost it. The whole audience loved it. I mean, you can’t deny Wolverine.”
2. Catherine Zeta Jones, “A Little Night Music” (2009)
Catherine Zeta-Jones won the Best Leading Actress Tony Award for her portrayal of Desiree in this musical. Starring alongside the incomparable Angela Lansbury, the actress poured her heart into the performance, notably nailing Sondheim’s song, “Send in the Clowns.” Now, if only we could get her and Renée Zellweger to star in “Chicago!”
Fun Fact: Zeta-Jones told Playbill that she hopes to play Mama Rose in “Gypsy” on Broadway one day.
3. Emma Stone, “Cabaret” (2014)
Emma Stone earned rave reviews for her turn as Sally Bowles in the revival of “Cabaret.” She took over the part after Michelle Williams and starred in the show with Alan Cumming.
Fun Fact: The star has revealed in various interviews that the role is a huge reason she was cast in “La La Land.” When Damien Chazelle (the film’s writer and director) saw her onstage in 2014, he immediately pictured her as the lead in his musical film. Stone also said that performing on Broadway helped her have the confidence to accept the role in the now-acclaimed “La La Land.”
4. Neil Patrick Harris, “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” (2014)
When it was announced that this cult favorite would be opening on Broadway, fans had high hopes. Of course, Neil Patrick Harris didn’t disappoint, and even won a Tony Award for his transformation into Hedwig.
Fun Fact: Since the cast was so small, Harris had three adjoining dressing rooms backstage: a pink room where he got made up, a relaxation room with a couch and a physical therapy room to warm up in, according to Vulture.
5. Matthew Morrison, “Finding Neverland” (2015)
While Matthew Morrison is no stranger to Broadway, he was considered to be the more bankable replacement for Jeremy Jordan when “Finding Neverland” hit New York City. However, the “Glee” star conjured up a magical performance as J.M. Barrie, delighting audiences and earning a Drama Desk Award nomination.
Fun Fact: In an interview with Broadway.com, Morrison said the choreography was so challenging to execute night after night that he started taking ice baths.
6. Jennifer Hudson, “The Color Purple” (2015)
Jennifer Hudson took her bounds of live experience to Broadway, making her Broadway debut as Shug Avery in a revival of “The Color Purple.” Although the Oscar winning performer said that “being a celebrity” was a big reason why she was hired, her charming performance delighted lucky attendees.
Fun Fact: According to Broadway Black, Hudson initially thought it was “weird” that she was called to play Shug, as she related more to Celie in her heart. However, she soon realized that she had some of Shug’s fire in her.
7. Josh Groban, “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812” (2016)
There is so much weight in The New York Times calling a performance “absolutely wonderful.” Josh Groban made his Broadway debut as Pierre in this musical adaptation of “War and Peace.” He left viewers intoxicated and was even named Broadway.com’s “Star of the Year” in 2016.
Fun Fact: Groban fell into the orchestra pit one night during a heated scene. “I kept stomping and stepping forward, and I didn’t realize where my feet were,” he recalled in an interview with The Guardian. “Usually I’m a little further back. I missed because the strobe lights are so disorienting. I said, ‘You bully! You scoundrel!’ It was like a vaudevillian slapstick routine. I fell smack-dab right onto the drumset. I had fat padding on, so I didn’t feel a thing. But my ego was bruised.”
8. Taran Killam, “Hamilton” (2017)
The “Saturday Night Live” alum assumed King George’s throne this year, doing the impossible and making “Hamilton” even better. Taran Killam kills it as the pompous tyrant in his Broadway debut.
Fun Fact: Killam was extra nervous to step into the king’s heeled shoes, not only because it’s, well, “Hamilton,” but because he’s friends with Lin-Manuel Miranda and the show’s director, Thomas Kail. He told The New York Times, “I don’t want to let my friends down, more than anything.”
9. Ben Platt, “Dear Evan Hansen” (2016)
You might say that Ben Platt is “pitch perfect” in “Dear Evan Hansen.” The film star originated the show’s title role as far back as its Washington, D.C. tryout in 2015. Now on Broadway, Platt plucks at the heartstrings of audiences night after night in what’s being called a can’t-miss performance.
Fun Fact: Platt’s dad is famed producer Marc Platt (“Wicked,” “La La Land”). He encouraged his son to follow his bliss when he recognized his passion.
10. Glenn Close, “Sunset Boulevard (1994/2017)
Glenn Close began her career on the stage but hit celebrity status in the 1980s for her Oscar-nominated turn in “The World According to Garp” and later, the box office smash “Fatal Attraction.” To ‘90s kids, she eventually became feared for her performance as Cruella de Vil in “101 Dalmatians,” for which she was nominated for a Golden Globe.
Needless to say, by the time Close starred as Norma Desmond in the American premiere of “Sunset Boulevard” in Los Angeles in 1993, she was incredibly well known. A year later, the star opened the show on Broadway with such buzz that the production broke the record for the highest advanced ticket sales at that time. In 1994, Close won a Tony Award, and now, she’s back reprising her role and is better than ever!
Fun Fact: After “Sunset Boulevard” first closed on Broadway, Close was haunted by the role. She felt like Norma was with her daily while she would do “mundane things” such as pack her kid’s lunch and drive her to school. “It was as if Norma was sitting across from me saying, ‘Children? Sandwiches? Where am I?’” she told NBC New York.