When Maria was singing, “The hills are alive…” she may well have been talking about the Hollywood hills! In recent years, some of Broadway’s best-kept secrets have been thrust onto the international stage of A-Listers. The normally niche fan base of the stars of ‘the Great White Way’ has expanded enormously as those same Thespians have become some of the biggest names in Hollywood.
The stage has served as a strong starting point for many of the most famous actors we know today. While conventional blockbuster audiences may scoff at going to see a play, many of those blockbuster stars first showed their acting chops on the stage. Stars like Victor Garber, Anna Kendrick (High Society), and Andrew Rannells (Book of Mormon), all had their time on the stage, when patrons would paid triple digits just for a seat in the theatre.
Recently, though, the tide has turned the other way. Broadway has become a place for major Hollywood actors to try their hand at treading the boards. Prior to Doogie Howser, Neil Patrick Harris performed at an amateur level in local plays and musicals in his home town, and while he swiftly became a star of the screen – after his success in television – he went back to his roots later, starring in leading roles in numerous plays and musicals on Broadway. He’s become as well-known for his stage work as his screen work now, having hosted the Tony Awards for four years in a row. Recently, it was announced that two of Hollywood’s hottest stars, James Franco and Chris O’Dowd, will be hitting Broadway for the 2014 season in the play adaptation of “Of Mice and Men”. The lines between Broadway and Hollywood are becoming blurred, and an increasing fluidity between the two means that the same names are cropping up in both circles with more regularity than ever before.
This new trend, though, can perhaps be traced back to the recent revitalisation and popularisation of musical theatre heralded by cultural phenomena like the hit television show, “Glee”, which stars Broadway royalty such as Lea Michele (Spring Awakening), Kristin Chenoweth (Wicked), and Matthew Morrison (Hairspray). In Disney’s latest hit movie, “Frozen”, almost the entire leading cast is made up of Broadway stars including Book of Mormon’s Josh Gad as the lovable snowman, Olaf. Spring Awakening’s Jonathan Groff plays the mountain man Christophe, and finally Wicked’s Idina Menzel headlines the movie along with Kristen Bell.
The fine stage actors on our list have a wide catalogue of successes but all of them can trace their roots back to Broadway. And of course, while stars of stage are known to struggle financially in pursuit of success, Hollywood inevitably equals a serious promotion. The stars who successfully made the transition from stage to screen have made serious money in the process. So, a standing ovation for the ten of the highest earning stars who started on Broadway and went on to make waves – and wads of cash – in Hollywood.
10. Florence Henderson – $15 Million
In our current age, where it seems talent is no longer a prerequisite for fame, Florence Henderson reminds us of the better times when true stars needed to be ‘triple threats’ in order to get their big break. Henderson ruled Broadway in the 50’s, in productions such as Wish You Were Here in 1952, as well as the 1954 musical, Fanny, where Henderson performed in a total of 888 productions of the show; now that’s impressive! Hollywood would eventually come to know her, though, as Carol Brady of The Brady Bunch.
9. Kristen Bell – $16 Million
One of Hollywood’s darlings and the star of “Veronica Mars” left NYU in 2001, a few credits shy of graduating, to star as Becky Thatcher in the Broadway production of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Bell would later return to her stage roots as Mary Lane in the movie adaptation of the musical “Reefer Madness”. Bell has moved on from Broadway with a highly successful on-going career in television and fil, including the latest Disney animated hit, “Frozen”, where Bell’s musical theatre style came into play. But many might be surprised to know that this Hollywood blonde got her break on the stages of New York.
8. Taye Diggs – $22 Million
Taye Diggs’ Broadway debut was in the original production of RENT back in the mid-90’s. Since his RENT days, Diggs has appeared in the film, “How Stella Got Her Groove Back” and the television series, “Private Practice”. Over the years, he continued to flip-flop from stage to screen, and recently starred in the the film “The Best Man Holiday” and “Baggage Claim”. There is no doubt that Diggs’ career will continue to grow as he continues in his work, and he has Broadway to thank for his big break
7. Kristin Chenoweth – $30 Million
Kristin Chenoweth is no stranger to the Great White Way, starring as Sally Brown in the Broadway show “You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown” as well as pioneering the role of Glinda in the hit musical “Wicked”. Chenoweth built on her stage success to make great strides on the silver screen, as a television actress in shows such as “The West Wing”, “Glee”, and “Pushing Daisies”. Between her success in television, film, and her stage work, Chenoweth has garnered a generous net worth of over $30 million.
6. Diane Keaton – $32 Million
Diane Keaton has certainly become a Hollywood gem in her long and prosperous career with films such as “The First Wives Club”, “Something’s Gotta Give”, and “Marvin’s Room”. But Keaton, in fact, got her big break in 1968 when she became the understudy for the role of Sheila in the big Broadway production of “Hair”. Keaton made headlines as she refused to go nude at the end of the show’s first act – the nudity in the play was, actually, optional for actors but they got a $50 bonus if they stripped down to their birthday suits. After her time as an understudy, Keaton landed the starring role in Woody Allen’s original stage production of Play It Again, Sam, for which she earned herself a Tony nomination. And so, a Broadway legend was born – and went on to become a Hollywood legend.
5. Julie Andrews – $45 Million
Dame Julie Andrews was theatre royalty long before she became a television and film star. Andrews started out as a stage actress with leading roles on Broadway and in West End musicals such as “Camelot”. Andrews got her big break acting as the original Eliza Dolittle in the first ever stage production of the classic, “My Fair Lady”. Believe it or not, Andrews lost to Audrey Hepburn to play Eliza Doolittle in the film version of My Fair Lady because she was an unknown, and yet beat Hepburn by winning the Oscar for her role in “Mary Poppins”. Since “Mary Poppins”, Andrews has seen a very successful film career and considered one of Hollywood’s most treasured actresses.
4. Meryl Streep – $46 Million
There is no doubt that Meryl Streep is one of the most talented and respected actresses of our time. In fact, she earned herself an MFA in acting from one of the top acting schools in the world, Yale. After she graduated, Streep made waves on Broadway with starring roles in productions such as “The Playboy of Seville”, and she acted in several plays with Shakespeare in the Park. 1977 would be a turning point for Streep, as it was then that she made her television debut in the made-for-TV movie, “The Deadliest Seasons”, as well as making her first feature film debut in the movie, “Julia”. Since the seventies, Streep has starred in countless enormously successful films, with her latest in the film adaption of Tracy Letts’ play, “August: Osage County”.
3. Sarah Jessica Parker – $90 Million
Long before she was Carrie Bradshaw in the HBO series, “Sex and the City”, Sarah Jessica Parker was the adorable red haired orphan Annie. At 12 years old, Parker landed the titular role in the Broadway production of “Annie”, and starred in a year-long run with great success. In 1982, Parker made the move to screen, starring in the one-season-wonder television show “Square Pegs”. Although the show was cancelled, Parker’s performance stood out by 1984 she was starring in films such as “Footloose”, “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” and “Flight of the Navigator.” From there, Parker found much success in television and film, which would peak with her iconic adaptation of Carrie Bradshaw in “Sex and the City” which made her a household name – and made her tens of millions!
2. Hugh Jackman – $100 Million
Ozzy Hugh Jackman recently had the opportunity to rediscover his musical theatre roots as Jean Valjean in the film adaptation of the musical “Les Miserables”. Most of us now know him as The Wolverine of X-Men. But in fact, this Hollywood action star started off in the West End – the British equivalent of Broadway. Jackman made a name for himself in productions such as “Oklahoma!” and the Australian musical “The Boy From Oz”. You can check out a video of Jackman’s performance in “Oklahoma!”, available on YouTube, to see Wolverine singing with a country twang and sporting chaps.
1. John Travolta – $165 Million
John Travolta became an icon after his role as Danny Zuko in the hit movie version of the musical, “Grease”, and his epochal dance moves in “Saturday Night Fever”. Travolta has joined the ranks of Hollywood royalty and his career is marked by decades of awards and starring roles. Believe it or not, though, Travolta started out in the touring production of the Broadway version of “Grease” and went on to star in the Broadway production of “Over Here!” before he became the movie star that we known him as today. Travolta occasionally revisits his Broadway roots: In recent years he starred in the movie adaptation of the musical “Hairspray” as Tracy’s mother, Edna Turnblad.
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