Broadway Backlash Against Hollywood Stars Heats Up as Tony Awards Approach

5:55 PM PST 05/30/2011 by Suzy Evans, BackStage
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Daniel Radcliffe, left, and John Larroquette in "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying"

With actors including Daniel Radcliffe, Al Pacino, Scarlett Johansson, Ben Stiller and Chris Rock among those recently appearing on Broadway, many New York actors are working to reclaim high-profile stage roles.

A Tony represents the Holy Grail for a stage actor and can significantly boost a performer's career, whereas film and television actors are already honored with awards like Oscars and Emmys. Having widely recognized actors swoop in and secure a Tony nomination can be upsetting to some, said Garrett Eisler of the blog The Playgoer, as there are limited spots.

According to Eisler, stars have driven Broadway ticket sales throughout history, but "what changed is the definition of who is a star." In the 1950s and '60s, the box office names were Robert Preston, Rex Harrison, and Zero Mostel, who had some fame from film but whose main medium was the stage. "A Broadway star could really be a star," Eisler said, recognizing that Patti LuPone is one of the few who fits this bill today. "Now you can't be a star unless you're a Hollywood star."

The Internet democratizes entertainment, and a stage performer will never receive the same size audience for a Broadway show that another actor will receive for a film or a television series.

"There's been a generational shift," Eisler explained, noting that today's generation of young people is the first to come of age with the Internet. "Certain stars can't become household names without appearing on multiple platforms."

Tony winner and New York stage veteran Victoria Clark acknowledged her win for The Light in the Piazza in 2005 helped launch her career and turned her into more of a "known quantity." Her role as Mother Superior in this year's Sister Act, for which she is nominated, came to her in part because of her name and the connections she made through her past work.

"Jerry Zaks could have gone after anybody between the ages of 45 and 80 for this part," she said, referring to the show's director. "There's a message to our directors: Support the people that supported you when you first started your career and go back to those people and give them a shot."

Celebrities coming to Broadway take work away from New York theater actors, according to Clark, but she also says the industry should not separate actors into film, TV and stage categories. "It's our culture that segregates us," she argued. "If we were actors in any other country, we'd all be doing everything, no questions asked."

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