A Welcome New Trend on Broadway: Homegrown Stars!


Andy Karl in Groundhog Day



By Barbara & Scott Siegel



It wasn’t long ago when it was much remarked upon that the musical Memphis had become a hit Broadway show without using either TV or movie stars as its leads. When the show began, theatrical insiders thought the Memphis producers were committing economic suicide by trying to sell their show to the public without recognizable names. Of course, Memphis went on to win the Tony Award for Best Musical and its two stars, Chad Kimball and Montego Glover were both nominated for Tony Awards, as well. Most importantly, the musical went on to run for 1,165 performances.


Clearly, Memphis opened the door to a new era on Broadway where, finally, musical theater talent, nurtured right here in our community, could rise to the top to headline big budget musicals. Some of this season’s most important musicals emphatically make that point.


Three major Broadway musicals this season do not have “outsider” stars leading their productions, but instead have stars who have risen from the trenches, paid their dues, and can now count themselves as bonafide stars.


We’re speaking, first, of Andy Karl who will likely win the Tony Award this year for Outstanding Actor in a Musical. His tour de force performance in Groundhog Day, complete with a devastating injury that he heroically rebounded from in order to perform on the show’s opening night (destined to become Broadway legend), marks this triple threat performer as a genuine box office star.


We remember seeing him in the original Off-Broadway cast of the musical Altar Boys (which also sparked the career of Cheyenne Jackson). During the ensuing years Andy Karl won plaudits (and fans) for his supporting performances in shows like Legally Blonde (as the sexy UPS Delivery Man), the revival of The Mystery of Edwin Drood, and On The Twentieth Century, before finally landing the title role of the ill-fated musical Rocky. But even though Rocky failed at the box office, Andy Karl’s performance in the Sylvester Stallone role brought him yet more praise – and it paved the way to the starring role in Groundhog Day.


Jenn Colella in Come From Away


Likewise, in the other Best Musical Tony contender, Come From Away, another performer from the trenches has emerged from this otherwise strong ensemble show to become the musical theater face of the show: Jenn Colella. This trumpet-voiced musical theater actress has been flirting with stardom for at least a decade as either a star of Off-Broadway shows or as a featured performer in Broadway musicals. But this time, the accolades are her own in her role as a female commercial pilot forced to land in New Foundland during the 9/11 crisis. She sings the show’s 11 O’clock number, “Me and the Sky,” and stops the show. And starts her new career as a star!


Even a big budget musical, that might have naturally considered a young female TV star in the role of Anastasia in the musical of the same name, launched their show with a young, luminous actress, Christy Altamore, who is not known now but will become a star from her winsome and winning performance on Broadway this season.


Christy Altamore in Anastasia


Even before this season, there was increasing evidence that shows could thrive without movie or TV stars in leading roles. Consider the meteoric rise of Jessie Mueller, who came to our attention when featured in a bomb (the revival of On A Clear Day…) with the star, Harry Connick, Jr., but she soon went on to star on her own in Beautiful and then Waitress and, in the process, has become the darling of Broadway.


What does this mean? It means that working folks in the theater don’t have to feel that their only chance for advancement is, in fact, to leave the theater and try to become TV and movie stars so that they may eventually be given starring roles on stage. In the past, countless talented performers who helped to develop shows in workshops, were constantly passed over and their roles were given to movie and TV stars when their shows finally got the green light to go to Broadway. Now –finally — Broadway is once again creating its own stars!