For those who keep track of celebrity appearances on Broadway, 2017 did not disappoint, offering plenty of opportunities to either relish an established star or catch a rising one.
In the first category, there was a bevy of high-profile debuts, from Amy Schumer’s turn as a sensible hostess gone screwball in the Steve Martin comedy Meteor Shower to Michael Moore’s one-man manifesto, The Terms of My Surrender. Olivia Wilde and Uma Thurman also arrived in politically charged plays, with Wilde cast as a doomed dissenter in an adaptation of George Orwell’s 1984 (also starring Tom Sturridge and Reed Birney) and Thurman playing a canny but conflicted Washington wife in Beau Willimon’s The Parisian Woman. And Danny DeVito earned a Tony Award making his Broadway bow at 72 in a new production of Arthur Miller’s The Price, as part of an ensemble that included stage and screen favorites Mark Ruffalo, Tony Shalhoub, and Jessica Hecht.
Ruffalo was among a number of stars making welcome returns. Clive Owen followed up his 2015 Broadway debut in Harold Pinter’s Old Times with more psychosexual intrigue, playing a French diplomat in a culturally fraught love affair in Julie Taymor’s new staging of David Henry Hwang’s modern classic M. Butterfly. Mark Rylance, who has repeatedly triumphed on the New York stage over the past decade, brought wife Claire Van Kampen’s Farinelli and the King over from the U.K., reprising his role as Spain’s Philippe V, whose troubled mind is eased by a castrato’s singing.
In Blair Brown’s first Broadway performance since her Tony-winning turn in 2000’s Copenhagen, the prolific actress — recently familiar to fans of Orange Is the New Black for her delicious spin on a fallen TV personality — played a powerful friend and foil to Thurman’s Parisian Woman character. Kevin Kline, a haunting Cyrano De Bergerac a decade ago, reaffirmed his rapier wit and age-defying gift for spry physical comedy in a revival of Noël Coward’s Present Laughter, collecting his third Tony as a result.
Bette Midler was another winner for her first musical role in decades, the divine heroine of Hello, Dolly! — with David Hyde Pierce’s scrumptiously deadpan Horace Vandergelder at her side. Other unforgettable duos included two of musical theater’s most enduring icons, Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole, matching wits and wardrobes as entrepreneurial pioneer women Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden in the musical War Paint; Cynthia Nixon and Laura Linney alternated juicy parts (one earning Nixon her second Tony) in a new staging of Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes.
Indeed, in a year in which women’s struggles, past and present, consistently made headlines, veteran actresses brought force and nuance to characters lifted from history and inspired by it. There were, in addition to previously mentioned performances, Jennifer Ehle’s portrait of real-life diplomat Mona Juul in Oslo, Allison Janney’s take on a guilt-ridden woman of privilege in a new Six Degrees of Separation, and Lea Salonga’s resolute goddess of love in Once on This Island. In Lucas Hnath’s A Doll’s House, Part 2, Laurie Metcalf, Jayne Houdyshell, and Condola Rashad helped the playwright expand on Ibsen’s proto-feminist classic; all were Tony nominees (as was sole male cast member Chris Cooper), with Metcalf winning.
In her first Broadway performance since becoming a mom, Laura Benanti flaunted her comic prowess as the vixen in Meteor Shower, with Keegan-Michael Key bringing his own skills to the stage as her partner in crime. Christian Borle reappeared as a properly mischievous and enchanting Willie Wonka in the new musical Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Steven Pasquale brought a darker wit to the role of a Michael Milken–inspired financier in Ayad Akhtar’s Junk.
Pasquale’s new bride, Phillipa Soo, did double duty in 2017, appearing first as the dreamy heroine of Amelie, A New Musical, then later as a more grounded but still impressionable millennial in Parisian Woman. Soo’s contemporary Gideon Glick won hearts as a young gay man in another play set distinctly in the present, Joshua Harmon’s Off-Broadway transfer Significant Other — with the great Barbara Barrie, now 86, cast as his character’s grandmother.
The year also saw breakthroughs for lesser-known talents. Hailey Kilgore and Jin Ha made spectacular Broadway debuts as, respectively, a soulful ingenue in Once on This Island and the mysterious Peking opera singer who captures the heart of Clive Owen’s character in M. Butterfly. Katrina Lenk, though not technically a newcomer, emerged as a major presence with a pair of smoldering, starmaking performances — both as uniquely spirited, if haunted, women — in Paula Vogel’s Indecent and the acclaimed musical The Band’s Visit.
New names are sure to emerge in 2018. And with John Lithgow: Stories by Heart already in previews, Bernadette Peters poised to step into Hello, Dolly! in January, and Nathan Lane, Andrew Garfield, Renee Fleming, Jim Parsons, and Denzel Washington among the names attached to productions opening in the spring, the year ahead will offer no shortage of opportunities for stargazing.
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