People don’t become famous from theatre. There are exceptions, of course, but before Lin-Manuel when was the last time a prominent stage actor hosted SNL? Movie stars often do plays. Successful theatre actors often go on to do movies. But it’s no surprise that even an actor who is well-known by New York theatre geeks and by the community at large will not be largely recognizable until someone in East Jesus can see them as easily as a wealthy donor from the Upper East Side. This is not a good system, but it’s the one we have. So, here are 13 wonderful stage actors we’d love to see become famous as soon as possible. Probably by joining the Avengers in some capacity.
NOTE: I would never imply that just because these people aren’t traditional celebrities does not mean they aren’t wildly successful. All have at least one Tony nomination under their belt.
Let’s start with the basics. Mark Rylance is right on the edge of becoming a seriously well known film actor, and to his many fans, this is incredibly frustrating. In the past year, he literally won an Oscar and most Americans seem to have no idea who he is. In this coming year he will star in giant new movies from Christopher Nolan and Steven Spielberg, which will undoubtedly help. What seems to be holding Rylance back in this regard is his own chameleonic skill. Looking at his stage major roles—Boeing Boeing, Jerusalem, and Richard III/Twelfth Night (in which he played Richard and Olivia, respectively) and his film credits—Bridge of Spies and The BFG (in which he played, you know, a giant)—you’d be forgiven for thinking that each role was played by a different man. Give him one more Time 100 list honor and let’s see if that does the trick.
Like the rest of his Juilliard ilk, Steven Boyer works, all the time (he was in Listen Up Philip. That’s a great movie!). But currently his best known credit is the unlikely Broadway success Hand to God, which transferred from the Ensemble Studio Theatre and secured Tony nominations for most of its cast, including Boyer. Hand to God, which featured one of the more delightfully weird premises in recent memory, had a lot of things going for it, and a lot of talented people working to pull it off. But there’s no minimizing it. If had Boyer not been able to pull off his joint role as Jason (a quiet boy from Texas) and Tyrone (the satanic entity possessing his hand puppet), then that would have been it. Instead, it was a dizzying, terrifying, hilarious performance that proved sometimes the most impressive thing on a Broadway stage isn’t pyrotechnics. It’s just virtuosity.
This is partially your own fault for not living in Chicago. Deanna Dunagan has been a Windy City mainstay for years and years through Steppenwolf, until she helped create the role of Violet Weston in August: Osage County, and then she was performing all over the world. Tracy Lett’s hit drama avoided “family play” cliches in many ways, but mostly we just hadn’t seen a matriarch quite as towering and terrifying as Violet Weston before. I guess I understand why they went with Meryl Streep for the film adaptation, but considering that no one seemed to like that movie anyway, did they have to? Was a wall-to-wall cast of movie stars really necessary? Is that why an adaptation of a play cost almost 40 million dollars? They would have been better off sticking with the original cast that made August what it is in the first place, and Dunagan should have been front and center.
Brian d’Arcy James
This is another one that shouldn’t be necessary. Brian d’Arcy James has been known as one of Broadway’s most dynamic actors forever at this point, appearing in wide-ranging shows like The Wild Party, Sweet Smell of Success, Something Rotten, and The Lieutenant of Inishmore. I mean, the guy was f**king Shrek, for Christ’s sake. But his breakout role came last year as Matt Carroll, the mustached member of the Spotlight team. d’Arcy James was as essential to that film’s perfect on-screen chemistry as any of the A-listers there. In fact, I’d argue that he stole the movie. Spotlight’s feature-length exercise in tension finally breaks when Carroll slams the printed story on the doorstep of a known pedophile—people erupted into applause when I saw that in theaters. But for whatever reason, they had to bump one of the four main characters off the poster to make way for John Slattery, who was great but was only in the movie for like two seconds. Let’s hope his upcoming appearance in the J.D. Salinger movie changes things.
Man, Stew doesn’t seem to give a shit whether you think he’s famous or not. That’s why Stew is the coolest. He also seems to stick to performing in his own shows, which is understandable. But for anyone who saw or heard him narrate his own semi-autobiographical musical Passing Strange, he’s simply fantastic. Honestly, who cares if Stew becomes a famous actor at any point—he’d be even better suited to topping charts left and right with his signature blend of… Well, of everything. He’s Stew, that’s the point. Still, there are few others working in musical theatre today who successfully at a rock concert element to their shows, which is something literally everyone is trying their hardest to do.
Sherie Rene Scott
Even if you’ve never heard Sherie Rene Scott sing, you’ve probably heard her work. She’s the co-founder of Sh-K-Boom Records, which puts out most OBC recordings worth listening to, as well as solo albums from Broadway performers. In addition to that, she’s a celebrated performer herself, originating Cathy Off-Broadway in The Last Five Years and appearing in a personal favorite of mine, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. In both, she displays the kind of overflowing wit and charm we look for in the great leading ladies, and timing on par with any noted character actress. Then she goes out and writes a semi-biographical musical of her own. What must she do?! Still, Record label owner/Broadway actress might just be the best dual career ever.