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Star Making Role / Theatre

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Stage plays and musicals tend to run in multiple cities with the same cast of actors and actresses, but that doesn't mean bright new stars can't break out every now and then.

  • Ethel Merman in Anything Goes, the first musical to feature her as much as a comic actress as a singer.
  • Ray Bolger, the future Scarecrow, in On Your Toes.
  • Sutton Foster in Thoroughly Modern Millie.
  • Laura Bell Bundy in Legally Blonde: The Musical.
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  • Marissa Jaret Winokur in Hairspray. It was also a major push for Matthew Morrison and Kerry Butler.
  • Jonathan Groff, Lea Michele, John Gallagher Jr. and Skylar Astin in Spring Awakening. Michele would become a household name with her other SMR on Glee, as would Groff to a lesser extent (he also had Frozen to help).
  • Aaron Tveit, Jennifer Damiano and Alice Ripley in Next to Normal.
  • Andrew Rannells, Josh Gad and Niki M. James in The Book of Mormon.
  • Kristin Chenoweth and Idina Menzel were already well-known Theater actresses but Wicked truly made them stars, although Frozen benefited Menzel to another level. Chenoweth's best known screen role is probably on Pushing Daisies.
    • Wicked is that rare hit where replacements also get a lot of fame and attention too and it ended up being star-making roles for others in the lead roles, such as Stephanie J. Block, Megan Hilty, etc.
  • Robert Preston in The Music Man.
  • While already known for her film career, Mame made Angela Lansbury a star of musical theatre as well.
  • Evita did this first for Elaine Paige in London and later Patti LuPone on Broadway.
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  • Hunter Foster in Urinetown, which came around the same time as his sister Sutton's big break (see above).
  • Kelli O'Hara in The Light in the Piazza. Her immediate follow-up, the Broadway revival of South Pacific, boosted her stature even more.
    • Victoria Clark as well, although she was already in her forties; it was her first leading role on Broadway.
  • Dan Fogler, Celia Keenan-Bolger and Jesse Tyler Ferguson in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Ferguson later found success on screen thanks to the sitcom Modern Family.
  • Sierra Boggess in The Little Mermaid and Love Never Dies. The latter was also a Star-Making Role for Ramin Karimloo.
  • Yul Brynner in The King and I, despite not originally being the star (note the show's title). The film adaptation was Brynner's star-making role on screen as well.
  • The long-forgotten 1924 musical I'll Say She Is! was the show that brought the Marx Brothers out of vaudeville and made them star comedians.
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  • Miss Saigon catapulted the then 17-year old Lea Salonga into Broadway stardom.
  • Patina Miller in Sister Act and the 2012 revival of Pippin.
  • Jessie Mueller in the 2011 revival of On a Clear Day You Can See Forever.
    • Beautiful (in which she played Carole King), about three years later, could be argued as this too.
  • Billy Magnussen in Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike.
  • Betsy Wolfe in the revival of Drood and the revival of The Last Five Years.
  • Stars of hit Broadway musicals who subsequently abandoned the stage for film and television careers include:
  • Mary Martin in One Touch of Venus.
  • Gwen Verdon in Damn Yankees. (Her previous role in Can-Can was a bit part aside from a few show-stealing ballets.)
  • Shirley Booth in Come Back, Little Sheba. She went on from this success to take a secondary character from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and make a star turn out of it in The Musical version.
  • Alfred Drake in Oklahoma!.
  • Dennis King in The Vagabond King.
  • Julie Andrews in The Boy Friend (which also became her American debut, though My Fair Lady was many times more successful).
  • Douglas Hodge in the 2008 U.K. revival of La Cage aux folles. Up to this point, he was best known as a go-to performer in Shakespeare and/or Pinter plays in the U.K., and his talent for musical comedy was not widely known. He not only won the Olivier Award for Leading Actor in a Musical for this revival, but subsequently took it to Broadway and won the equivalent award at the Tonys for his New York debut. Now he has a reputation for versatility.
  • Estelle Getty's performance in Torch Song Trilogy was noted by the producers of The Golden Girls, who went to see the production upon Rue Mclanahan's suggestion.
  • The 1992 Broadway revival of Guys and Dolls made a star of Nathan Lane, who played Nathan Detroit.
  • Despite having several leads in various Broadway shows, Laura Benanti's Tony Award winning role as Louise in the 2008 revival of Gypsy made her a Broadway star.
  • Jeremy Jordan in the back to back leading roles of Clyde Barrow in the 2011 musical adaptation of Bonnie and Clyde and Jack Kelly in Newsies.
    • Similar to Jordan, despite winning the reality show You're the One That I Want and starring as Sandy in Grease, Laura Osnes didn't achieve star status until starring in Anything Goes and Bonnie and Clyde back to back in 2011.
  • Santino Fontana in Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella, boosted by his performance in Frozen.
  • Lena Hall in her Tony winning performance as Yitzhak in the 2014 Broadway revival of Hedwig and the Angry Inch.
  • Lavinia Fenton became an overnight success after originating the role of Polly Peachum in the original company of The Beggar's Opera in 1728. Her pictures were high in demand, people recognized her on and off stage as Polly, and she was briefly considered the most famous person in London.
  • Michael Crawford, Sarah Brightman, and to a lesser extent Steve Barton, Rosemary Ashe (London Carlotta) and Judy Kaye (New York Carlotta) in Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera - though all of them had been involved in well known productions, Crawford and Kaye having gained significant Acclaim in previous shows Barnum and On The Twentieth Century respectively, and Brightman attracting attention for her commercially successful recording of Pie Jesu from Webber's Requiem. The Subsequent West End and Broadway Productions of the Mega-Hit Phantom gained them all International Recognition.
  • Michael Cerveris and Paul Kandel in the Broadway musical version of Tommy, though the latter may have been helped by a certain Disney movie that came out just three years after that musical ended.
  • Ben Platt as the title character in the 2017 Broadway musical Dear Evan Hansen, as well as almost the entire rest of the cast.
  • Denée Benton as Natasha in the 2017 Broadway production of Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812, along with Josh Groban in his Broadway debut (though he is already a celebrity in his own right as a singer).
  • An operatic example: the late Australian coloratura soprano Joan Sutherland started a successful career from her performance as Lucia from Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor.
  • Delibes' Lakmé was the role that gave American soprano Marie van Zandt a successful career. In fact, Delibes composed the opera for van Zandt specifically.
  • World-famous soprano Maria Callas became a successful and beloved diva after her performance of Elvira in Bellini's I puritani in Venice in 1949. She'd performed the role without much knowledge after being called to replace Italian soprano Margherita Carosio who had fallen sick.
  • Anne Bancroft in Two for the Seesaw.
  • Lin-Manuel Miranda had already become established in theatre circles thanks to In the Heights, but nobody could guess the truly phenomenal success of Hamilton which not only became the biggest musical hit in pop culture in decades, which made Lin one of the hottest tickets in show biz and global celebrity - Disney quickly poached him up where his many talents are put to good use - he co-wrote the songs for Moana, landed the male lead of Jack the Lamplighter in Mary Poppins Returns, and a recurring role in Duck Tales as Fenton Crackshell-Cabera / Gizmoduck!
  • Heather Headley's role as Nala in Disney's The Lion King gained her attention with her Tony Winning performance as the title character in the similarly Disney Produced Aida made her a Broadway legend.
  • Fred Stone and Dave Montgomery won fame as a musical comedy duo playing the Scarecrow and Tin Woodman in The Wizard of Oz (1902), beginning a starring career that lasted three decades for Stone. (Montgomery co-starred in all of Stone's shows until his death in 1917.)
  • Darren Criss was still in college when A Very Potter Musical, but once the show went viral on Youtube Criss was catapulted to fame, leading to a successful music, television, and Broadway career. Not bad for a college production! The play served as this to a lesser extent for the rest of the crew as well, who were able to parlay the show's success into their own theater group (Team StarKid) and steady theater careers for most of the cast.
  • While Carol Channing most famous role of her career, and easily one of the most famous performances in the history of musical theatre, would be that of Dolly Levi in the smash hit Hello, Dolly!, long before Screen Goddess Marilyn Monroe immortalized the friendship between a girl and her diamonds, Carol was the Blonde Gentlemen Preferred, in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.
  • Pia Douwes fame and notoriety sky rocketed, especially in Europe and Asia, after her performance as the titular character in the international smash hit Elisabeth, as well as Uwe Kruger own stardom growing larger as the leading man Der Tod/Death, roles they have both returned to on multiple occasions.
  • Ethan Slater's Broadway debut originating the title role in The Spongebob Musical which greatly boosted his profile and won him several awards.
  • In addition to Lin-Manuel Miranda, this also applies in varying degrees to every other principle actor in Hamilton's original Broadway cast, except for Jonathon Groff who was already well known both on Broadway and in other formats. The biggest examples would be Leslie Odom Jr. and Daveed Diggs who found the most success outside of the stage.
  • Howard McGillin's first Broadway role as Villain Protagonist John Jasper in Drood got him a Tony nomination and helped jumpstart a long and successful career.


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