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Playing Against Type / Theater

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  • Generally speaking, acclaimed film or television actors will sometimes do a season on Broadway, and the results can be really surprising — an actor not known for singing is cast in the lead of a musical, for instance. Cynics will say that this is a ploy for flagging shows to bring in a wider audience, but sometimes the actor fits the role and fits into the show very well, indeed.
  • Michael Crawford, prior to the mid-80s, had been cast almost exclusively in bumbling, comic roles, like Hello, Dolly. Then he put on a mask and a cape...
  • Daniel Radcliffe of Harry Potter in Equus, to much acclaim.
  • Two-time Tony Award winner John Cullum started out playing Shakespeare in New York, was in the original cast of Camelot, On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, On The Twentieth Century, and Shenandoah. Then he was in Urinetown. He was understandably baffled the first time he read the script.
  • Ian McKellen gave a monologue while hosting Saturday Night Live where he talked about his experiences in a theater troupe with Anthony Hopkins and Maggie Smith. He ended with: "Who would have thought that Tony Hopkins would be known as a man who eats people's faces, Maggie Smith would be known as the Harry Potter lady, and I would be an action figure?"
  • Christy Carlson Romano took the role of Kate/Lucy in Avenue Q. There is something a bit jarring in hearing Kim Possible cry "f* ck, it sucks to be me".
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  • Andrea McArdle, the original Annie, has returned to show business and now plays the nasty Miss Hannigan.
  • In 1980, David Bowie — he of the sultry voice, smooth onstage moves, and cool persona — made his Broadway debut as the title character in The Elephant Man. Beyond the role being that of The Grotesque, it is a notorious challenge for an actor, since the script's instructions dictate that he must rely on twisted body language and vocal distortion rather than makeup to convey his severe deformities. As well, no established rock star had appeared in a Broadway show (much less a non-musical) up to that point, and critics were doubtful this would work — but Bowie got excellent reviews from them all the same. And film director Nagisa Oshima cast Bowie in Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence after seeing him in this play.
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  • Laurence Fishburne, known for playing serious, stoic types, played the title role in Thurgood, a one-man-play about Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall, who was something of a Boisterous Bruiser.
  • The otherwise light-hearted Opal Peachey plays a naughty leather-clad character in Modern Luv.
  • Adamo Ruggiero, known for playing gay characters (most notably Marco del Rossi), played the stoner Van in a production of Dog Sees God Confessions Of A Teenage Blockhead, and outright asks a female character for a blowjob. Adamo even noted that when he was asked to audition, he expected to read for Beethoven, the kid who gets picked on because everyone thinks he's gay.
  • Michael Ball, known for originating the role of Tenor Boy Marius in Les Misérables and for romantic roles/musical stylings, played Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street in 2012, and in fact played an unusually thuggish and unhinged Todd at that. And before that, he had played Edna Turnblad in the 2007 London production of Hairspray.
  • The original cast of Porgy and Bess included Ford L. Buck and John W. Bubbles, a little guy/big guy vaudeville hoofer team popular in vaudeville, as Mingo and Sportin' Life.


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