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West coast actresses welcomed on the Great White Way

Rick Rogers Published: May 15, 2013

Yesterday, I put together a list of prominent Hollywood actors who took a break from their film or television careers to star in a Broadway musical. Today, the women get their due. Curiously, each performer has made but a single appearance in a Broadway musical.

Lucille Ball, the lovable redhead who became a television icon with her sitcoms “I Love Lucy” and “The Lucy Show,” played an Annie Oakley of the oil fields in the 1960 musical “Wildcat.” Celebrated for her big-screen appearances in “Gone With the Wind” and “A Streetcar Named Desire,” the winsome Vivien Leigh portrayed an exiled member of the Russian nobility in the now forgotten “Tovarich.”

In 1969, four-time Academy Award-winner Katherine Hepburn was enticed to portray the legendary couturier Coco Chanel in a musical bio written by Andre Previn and Alan J. Lerner. The show traced Chanel’s life from her impoverished beginnings to the leader of the fashion industry. Shelley Winters, an actress remembered for her roles in “The Diary of Anne Frank” and “The Poseidon Adventure,” played the Marx family matriarch in a failed 1970 musical titled “Minnie’s Boys.”

Although Bette Midler (“The Rose” and “Outrageous Fortune”) would ultimately divide her career between film and the concert stage, she briefly played Tzeitel in Broadway’s long-running hit “Fiddler on the Roof.” And Lillian Gish, who portrayed the daughter of an abolitionist leader in “The Birth of a Nation,” starred as the Dowager Empress of Russia in the 1965 musical “Anya.”

Baby boomers know Agnes Moorehead as Endora on the television sitcom “Bewitched,” but this imposing actress also appeared as Aunt Alicia in Lerner and Loewe’s 1973 stage adaptation of the musical “Gigi.” Although not primarily known for their screen roles, two performers deserve inclusion in this group: soprano Teresa Stratas took a sabbatical from the world of opera to star in “Rags,” a four-performance fiasco about the challenges faced by an immigrant family after their arrival in New York.

And Anna Maria Alberghetti, who appeared in the 1951 film “The Medium,” made her only Broadway musical appearance a decade later in “Carnival.” She won a Tony Award as Lili, the orphaned waif who joins the carnival and falls in love with a magician. Finally, there’s Rosalind Russell, the no-nonsense screen star remembered for her exuberance in “Auntie Mame” and “Gypsy.” Russell played Ruth Sherwood, a Midwestern girl trying to launch a literary career, in Leonard Bernstein’s 1953 stage musical “Wonderful Town.”

More recent examples include Allison Janney (“The West Wing”), who made her Broadway musical in the 2009 musical “9 to 5,” and Catherine Zeta-Jones (“Chicago”), who made her Broadway debut the same year and won a Tony Award for her role in the revival of “A Little Night Music.” Jane Lynch (“Best in Show,” “Glee”) will take over the role of Miss Hannigan in the Broadway revival of “Annie” this week.