Actors Who Got Their Start On Broadway

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Actors Who Got Their Start On BroadwayJanette Pellegrini - Getty Images
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Once just a quotidian stretch of thoroughfare peppered with a few vaudeville theaters, contemporary Broadway has been sublimated beyond its geography and has come to represent the zenith of American stage production. Broadway has, since its inception, given the comparatively fledgling Hollywood some of its most compelling and influential talents. Though comprised solely of some of the most gifted performers in the world, an actor making the jump from stage to screen is no small feat. Long have actors lamented the treacherous pass from television to film, though the transition from theater (even at its highest level) to a conventional Hollywood career can pose even more challenges. The ability of these actors to so seamlessly flit between stage and screen productions is a testament not only to their versatility as performers, but to the sheer propulsive quality of their talent.

Sarah Jessica Parker

Long before Parker was marching down Broadway in towering Manolos as Carrie Bradshaw in HBO’s Sex and the City, she found herself working on Broadway when she was cast in the Broadway revival of The Innocents as a young girl. Following her Broadway debut, Parker was cast in a Broadway production of Annie, and just like that (pun intended) she joined a short-lived CBS sitcom and boogied for a role in the 1984 film Footloose. Following her starring roles in HBO’s Divorce and the Sex and the City reboot And Just Like That… Parker returned to Broadway to lead the revival of Neil Simon’s comedic play Plaza Suite alongside her husband, actor Matthew Broderick.

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Jonathan Groff

After spending time waiting tables at New York’s Chelsea Grill, the Mindhunter star broke onto the Broadway scene when he was cast as Melchior Gabor in the 2006 rock musical Spring Awakening. The coming-of-age production based on Frank Wedekind’s 1891 play of the same name included performances from Groff, John Gallagher Jr., Lauren Pritchard, and Groff’s future Glee castmate: Lea Michele. Though Groff has been very busy as a leading man in great shows, and films like Frozen and Knock at the Cabin, he’s continued his stage career as well, most recently starring in a revival of Stephen Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along with Daniel Radcliffe and Lindsay Mendez.

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Gaten Matarazzo

Before the Stranger Things star skyrocketed to fame for his role in the acclaimed Netflix series, his early career started on the stage. Matarazzo’s first professional came in 2011 when he was cast as a replacement in the Broadway production of the jukebox musical Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. Shortly after Priscilla, Matarazzo was cast as the precocious juvenile revolutionary Gavroche in a Broadway production of Les Misérables shortly before making his on-screen acting debut in a 2015 episode of The Blacklist. The young actor has maintained his stage career, most recently playing Tobias in an acclaimed 2023 Broadway revival of the musical Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street alongside Josh Groban and Annaleigh Ashford.

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Jason Alexander

Before playing the neurotic George Costanza in Seinfeld, Alexander spent years all over Broadway. Alexander began his acting career in 1981 after being cast as Joe in the original Broadway production of Merrily We Roll Along and later scored roles in shows like The Rink and Jerome Robbins’ Broadway, the latter of which earned him the Tony Award for Best Leading Actor in a Musical in 1989. Following the success of Seinfeld, Alexander’s focus turned predominantly to film and television, though he’s remained involved in theater, directing stagings of shows like The Last Five Years in 2019 and, most recently, The Cottage in 2023.

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Diane Keaton

Though Keaton has been a legend of the film industry since her breakout role as Kay Adams in Francis Ford Coppola’s seminal work The Godfather, much of her early career and training was spent on the stage. Shortly after assuming an understudy role in the Broadway musical Hair, Keaton was cast as Linda Christie in Woody Allen’s comedic play Play It Again, Sam, sparking what would become a long-standing, career-defining creative partnership. Keaton seamlessly transitioned from stage to screen alongside Allen and the pair went on to collaborate on eight different films together, most notably Keaton’s best-remembered performance in the 1977 film Annie Hall.

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Lea Michele

Much like her Glee character Rachel Berry, Michele has harbored a longstanding adoration for the stage and musical theater. However, unlike her neurotic, driven Glee character, Michele’s Broadway dreams were realized very early on, making her debut at the age of eight as a young Cosette in the 1995 Broadway production of Les Misérables. Michele continued to star in Broadway productions throughout her childhood, most notably as Shprintze in the 2004 revival of Fiddler on the Roof. Michele received her breakout leading role after being cast alongside fellow Glee alum Jonathan Groff in Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater’s rock musical Spring Awakening.

light the lights broadway is back concert
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John Travolta

Before becoming a bonafide heartbreaker with his role as Danny Zuko in the 1978 film adaptation of the musical Grease, Travolta first cut his teeth in the theater. Shortly after dropping out of high school in 1971, Travolta moved to New York City and was later cast in the inaugural Broadway production of the musical Over Here! Following his Broadway debut, Travolta moved to Los Angeles and landed his first onscreen role in 1972 after being cast in a minor role for a season 2 episode of the medical drama Emergency! The Grease actor’s first big break in the movie business came after he was cast as the dimwitted bully Billy Nolan in Brian de Palma’s 1978 film Carrie.

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James Earl Jones

Often regarded as one of the most accomplished actors of his generation, Jones has not only starred on-screen in films like Conan the Barbarian; he’s also voiced some of the most unforgettable characters in cinema like Mufasa in The Lion King and Darth Vader in Star Wars. Decades before establishing himself as a mainstay in Hollywood, Jones worked extensively in theater, first working as an actor, carpenter, and stage manager at a Michigan theater before making his Broadway debut as an understudy in Molly Kazan’s play The Egghead in 1957. Much of Jones' acting work throughout the 1960s remained in the theater (particularly Shakespeare productions) before landing his first leading film role in the 1970 film adaptation of Howard Sackler’s 1967 play The Great White Hope.

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Patricia Clarkson

After earning her MFA from the Yale School of Drama in 1985, Clarkson was cast as a replacement in a Broadway production of John Guare’s play The House of Blue Leaves. Clarkson made her feature film debut the following year when she joined Brian de Palma’s crime film The Untouchables. While Clarkson’s career has mostly consisted of film and television work since her mainstream breakthrough in the 2000s, the Sharp Objects actor has occasionally still performed for the stage, most recently in 2014 when she starred as Mrs. Kendal in a Broadway production of Bernard Pomerance’s play The Elephant Man.

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