Star Wars and Broadway
In case you have missed it somehow, a few weeks ago a little movie called Star Wars: The Force Awakens opened in the movie theatres and it has been getting a lot of buzz. I decided to look at the stage credits of the actors in the Star Wars franchise and was surprised (or perhaps, not surprised) to find that many of these actors have appeared on Broadway. Today’s blog is a celebration of those actors who inhabited the characters of “a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away” and who also came down from the stars to light up Broadway.
Princess Leia Organa, and now General Leia Organa, was played by the terrific Carrie Fisher, daughter of celebrity couple Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher. Fisher made her Broadway debut in 1973 playing a “Debutante” in the musical Irene which incidentally starred her mother. This was a few years before Star Wars would make her an iconic freedom leader. Her next foray onto the Great White Way was as an original cast member in Censored Scenes from Hong Kong (1980), followed by a replacement stint as the titular nun in Agnes of God (1982). Of course, we most recently recall her hilarious one-woman show Wishful Drinking (2009) where she offered up the dish on her life as the child of Hollywood celebrities.
Who knew Luke Skywalker was in a Broadway musical? Well, Mark Hamill starred in the 1985 flop musical Harrigan ‘n Hart, playing the role of comedian Tony Hart. This wasn’t his first appearance on Broadway. Hamill served as a replacement for the role of John Merrick in The Elephant Man (1979), followed soon by a turn as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in Amadeus (1980). In 1987 he played Willum Cubbert in the comedy The Nerd. Most recently, he played dance teacher Michael Minetti in the short-lived Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks (2003).
Billy Dee Williams:
The suave and somewhat untrustworthy Administrator of Cloud City, Lando Calrissian, was portrayed by popular actor Billy Dee Williams. Williams made his Broadway debut as Duke Custis in the 1960 play The Cool World, followed almost immediately with originating the role of “The Boy” in A Taste of Honey. He made his musical debut as a replacement in the cast of the Tony-winning musical Hallelujah, Baby! He would also go on to play Martin Luther King, Jr. in I Have a Dream (1976) and he would eventually serve as James Earl Jones’ replacement as Troy Maxson in August Wilson’s Fences (1987).
The skeletal Peter Cushing, who played the cool and collected villain Grand Moff Tarkin in A New Hope would have only one Broadway credit before Hammer Horror Films and Star Wars were to make him a well-recognized star. He appeared in the 1941 The Seventh Trumpet by playwright Charles Rann Kennedy. It only last eleven performances.
Ben Obi-Wan Kenobi is legendary in the Star Wars cannon, thanks particularly to Sir Alec Guinness’s portrayal. A well-known Shakespearean actor, Guinness appeared on Broadway three times. For 14 performances he played Flight Lieutenant Graham Teddy in the 1942 play The Flight Path by Terence Rattigan. In 1950, he played “An Unidentified Guest” in T.S. Eliot’s The Cocktail Party. In 1964, he won a Tony Award playing the title character in the play Dylan, a play by Sidney Michaels about the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas.
Padme Amidala may have been Queen of Naboo and mother to the most famous set of twins of all time, but Oscar-winning actress Natalie Portman who portrayed her also found some notoriety by appearing as the title character in the 1997 revival of the Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich drama The Diary of Anne Frank which also featured George Hearn and Linda Lavin.
The young Ben Obi-Wan Kenobi recently made his Broadway debut in 2014, starring in a revival of Tom Stoppard’s The Real Thing produced by The Roundabout Theatre Company. Most of us were hoping for a Broadway MUSICAL debut after his exhilarating and charming performance in the film Moulin Rouge where he made every song believable, no matter how anachronistic they were.
James Earl Jones:
The cold, mechanical voice of Darth Vader was provided by none other than the unforgettable James Earl Jones who has been gracing the Broadway stage for decades. He made his Broadway debut in 1958 playing the character of Edward in Sunrise at Campobello by Dore Shary. He would go on to play Harrison Thurston in The Cool World (1960), Phillipeau in Danton’s Tod (1965), and in A Hand Is on the Gate (1966) before winning his first Tony Award as boxer Jack Jefferson in Howard Sackler’s The Great White Hope (opposite Jane Alexander). He played Hickey in a 1973 revival of The Iceman Cometh and Lennie in a 1974 production of Of Mice and Men. In 1982, he treated us to a spellbinding turn as the title character in William Shakespeare’s Othello. One of his greatest roles is arguably as Troy Maxson in August Wilson’s Fences for which he received a second Tony Award. He recent years, James Earl Jones has continued to return to Broadway in On Golden Pond (2005), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (2008), Driving Miss Daisy (2010), The Best Man (2012), You Can’t Take It with You (2014) and The Gin Game (2015).