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Broadway lures Hollywood actors to the stage

Rick Rogers Published: May 14, 2013

If most noted performers tend to become strongly identified with either Broadway or Hollywood, a few, including Celeste Holm, Lauren Bacall, Angela Lansbury, Barbara Streisand and Julie Andrews, have managed to transition back and forth with ease. Today, far more performers tend to leave the Great White Way for Tinseltown, although a few notable examples of the reverse can be cited, some of whom may surprise all but the most astute theatergoer.

While most of these Hollywood notables were primarily thought of as screen actors, all explored the world of the stage even though each appeared in only a single Broadway musical. Long before Andy Griffith became known as Mayberry’s easy-going sheriff, he played a similar character in the Broadway production of “Destry Rides Again.” Anthony Perkins starred as a man struck by wanderlust in 1960′s “Greenwillow,” the same year he created the role of the evil Norman Bates in “Psycho.”

Many will be surprised to learn that Jackie Gleason won a Tony Award for his role as Sid Davis in “Take Me Along,” yet never received an Emmy for portraying Ralph Kramden on “The Honeymooners.” Christopher Plummer, an award-winning stage actor whose career will forever be associated with “The Sound of Music,” earned a 1973 Tony Award for his role as Cyrano de Bergerac in the musical “Cyrano.”

Although Alan Alda has starred in numerous television series, he’ll forever be remembered for his role as Capt. Hawkeye Pierce on “M*A*S*H.” But this versatile actor also appeared in the musical “The Apple Tree.” And two of the big screen’s finest stars each took a break from films to star in musicals written by the distinguished songwriting team of Lerner and Loewe. Rex Harrison earned a Tony and an Oscar for his role as the unyielding Henry Higgins in “My Fair Lady,” while Richard Burton gave a princely performance as King Arthur in “Camelot.”

Other notable actors who dabbled in the Broadway musical include Jack Klugman (“The Odd Couple” and “Quincy, M.E.”) in “Gypsy,” Sid Caesar (“Your Show of Shows”) in “Little Me,” Vincent Price (“The Fly” and “The Abominable Dr. Phibes”) in “Darling of the Day,” Burgess Meredith (“Of Mice and Men” and “Batman”) in “Johnny Johnson,” and F. Murray Abraham (“Amadeus”) in the short-live musical “Triumph of Love.”

More recent examples include Kelsey Grammer (“Frasier”), who appeared in the 2010 Broadway revival of “La Cage aux Folles,” Sean Hayes (“Will and Grace”), who made his Broadway debut the same year in the revival of “Promises, Promises,” and Daniel Radcliffe (“Harry Potter”), who drew large crowds to watch him climb the corporate ladder in the 2011 revival of “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.”