There's no such thing as a straight-up "stage actor" anymore. Yes, many successful stage stars pack up their Broadway-vetted legitimacy and take a swing at making real money in movie and on TV —who can blame them?
But there are also many screen stars going the other way — trying to revamp their career, show wider range or fill their time between shoots —popping in and out of the theater scene as they see fit. And that means we're seeing more and more film and television personas coming to New York City to prove they're got what it takes —live, eight times a week. The fall/winter chapter of 2014-15 is proof of that, spilling over with household-name talent onstage.
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We barely have the space to write about all of the amazing actors you can catch, but here are six (and a few bonuses) that you'll definitely want to have on your radar.
Perhaps best known as the chilling voice of Darth Vader, James Earl Jones has a string of Broadway credits — and Tony Awards to go with them. He’s now playing the patriarch of a wacky family in the Pulitzer Prize-winning comedy, “You Can’t Take It With You" (alongside Rose Byrne, who's making her debut on the Great White Way). The show opened on Sept. 28.
We watched him grow up as Ron Weasley in eight "Harry Potter" movies, and now he’s crossed the pond to establish a creative beachhead on American soil. Rupert Grint flexes his comedic muscles in his Broadway debut as a highly theatrical director in “It’s Only a Play,” which opened Oct. 9. He'll be put to the test against a coterie of established names, including Nathan Lane, Matthew Broderick, Megan Mullally and Stockard Channing.
While Hugh Jackman received a Tony Award for the 2003 musical “The Boy from Oz,” the last time he was in a drama on Broadway (“A Steady Rain”), critical reaction was tepid. Rumor has it that “The River,” which opens Nov. 16, will provide him with a sturdier vehicle to display his dramatic acting chops.
Other than a fleeting guest star stint in 2003 ("The Play What I Wrote"), Broadway royalty Glenn Close hasn’t appeared on the New York stage since 1995 ("Sunset Boulevard"). Starting Nov. 20, she stars in a revival of “A Delicate Balance.” Her return from Hollywood exile is much anticipated as she goes for Tony Award No. 4.
Meanwhile, two-time Oscar nominee Bradley Cooper is foregoing his leading-man looks for his second Broadway appearance after 2006’s “Three Days of Rain.” He’ll be playing an arguably emancipated sideshow freak in “The Elephant Man.” Cooper might be angling for a Tony, which the play has won in years prior. Check out how his acting holds up without his handsome face starting Dec. 7.
Michael Cera has carved a niche for himself as the awkward adolescent in TV's "Arrested Development," as well as films like "Superbad." Now he's getting right in our faces with that secondhand embarrassment vibe with his Broadway debut in "This Is Our Youth," where he plays —you guessed it —a nervous juvenile trying to find his footing (and impress his "cool" friends, played by Kieran Culkin and Tavi Gevinson) in 1980s NYC. It opened Sept. 11.
Bonus: Onstage, Offstage and Off-Broadway
Two other big stars from television and film are soon taking the stage —but not in new plays. On Thursday, Michael C. Hall took over for Andrew Rannells (who replaced Neil Patrick Harris) in the Broadway premiere of "Hedwig and the Angry Inch." Meanwhile, Emma Stone joins Alan Cumming onstage in "Cabaret" starting Nov. 11. She's making her Broadway debut in the role of Sally Bowles.
Onstage musically but not physically, Broadway first-timer and sixteen time Grammy Award winner Sting has written the music and lyrics for “The Last Ship,” a tale of the shipyards in working-class England inspired by his own childhood. If the Chicago critics are to be believed, this is one to watch.
And then there’s America Ferrera, eschewing the bright lights of Broadway (and her "Ugly Betty" persona) for the intimacy of off-Broadway. She stars in "Lips Together, Teeth Apart,” her third off-Broadway outing, starting Nov. 5. It's now in previews.
For more theater news, follow T. Michelle Murphy on Twitter: @TMichelleMurphy.