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2013 Tony Awards: How TV, movie stars fared on Broadway

At Tonys time, the season's cavalcade of TV and movie stars teaches fresh lessons about when such casting works (Tom Hanks) and when it doesn't (Emilia Clarke).

June 07, 2013|By Charles McNulty, Los Angeles Times Theater Critic
  • Tom Hanks, right, in "Lucky Guy" at Broadhurst Theatre in New York.
Tom Hanks, right, in "Lucky Guy" at Broadhurst Theatre in New… (Joan Marcus )

Another Broadway season, another cavalcade of television and movie stars testing their stage mettle.

Some come to build their acting muscles, others come for the publicity splash, and a select few come because they simply can't stay away. The chance to perform before an audience in a work that is resonant with meaning outweighs all other considerations, including their agents and managers begging them not to take themselves out of the running for a bit part in a preteen franchise film.

Well, the report cards are in and the grades not surprisingly are mixed.

The biggest name — Tom Hanks — fared the best. He has a solid shot at the Tony Award for his performance in Nora Ephron's "Lucky Guy." (The ceremony can be seen Sunday night on CBS.) And though my vote for lead actor in a play would go to Tracy Letts for his pugnacious performance in Pam MacKinnon's clarifying revival of Edward Albee's masterpiece "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?," Hanks impressed as much for his patented charisma as for his ensemble teamwork.


But the days when a Hollywood headliner was practically guaranteed a Tony for deigning to perform on Broadway are over. Bette Midler electrified the critics with her stage presence in the solo play "I'll Eat You Last: A Chat With Sue Mengers" but didn't receive a nomination for the highly competitive lead actress in a play.

Alec Baldwin, a favorite New York son and no stranger to the stage, was the marquee draw of Lyle Kessler's 1983 play, "Orphans." But it was Baldwin's less-heralded costar Tom Sturridge who nabbed a Tony nomination for lead actor — a race that, in addition to Hanks and Letts, includes two beloved Broadway funnymen, Nathan Lane and David Hyde Pierce.

How marvelous to see Cicely Tyson return to the stage after a 30-year absence in the revival of Horton Foote's "The Trip to Bountiful." Tyson deserves to win for lead actress in a play, though Michael Wilson's production was diminished somewhat by the casting of Oscar winner Cuba Gooding Jr., who appeared utterly lost onstage, as though he couldn't understand why the director wasn't shouting "Cut!" during his awkward moments.

Joining Gooding at the bottom of this year's class is Emilia Clarke (of HBO's "Game of Thrones"), whose charmless turn as Holly Golightly in "Breakfast at Tiffany's" had me flipping through my mental almanac to come up with a worse Broadway performance. (I'm still flipping.)

Not quite as bad though not all that much better was two-time Oscar nominee Jessica Chastain ("The Help," "Zero Dark Thirty") in "The Heiress." Miscast as the plain Jane spinster-in-training Catherine Sloper, Chastain made clear through her wooden portrayal just how much more difficult stage acting is than film acting even for a Juilliard graduate.

PHOTOS: Hollywood stars on stage

Katie Holmes can't be blamed for Theresa Rebeck's dead-on-arrival "Dead Accounts." Her loveliness deserved a better sitcom — I mean play — but loveliness only goes so far in the theater. The camera can make a meal out of a fresh face, but a proscenium stage requires more from a performer. The invisible must be expertly wielded.

Beauty is so rewarded in our culture that it can forestall the inner work — the digging for something unexpectedly true — that is at the core of great acting. Clarke, Chastain and Holmes made me fear that the Great White Way could be going the way of network television — a bunch of pretty faces giving expression to shopworn emotions.

Codependent relationship?

Broadway has sadly become dependent on star casting, though misadventures such as Al Pacino's wacko performance in "Glengarry Glen Ross" this season may make audiences a bit more leery of conflating consumer value with celebrity.

Movie stars ought to exercise a bit more caution themselves. Those eager to enhance their theatrical craft might want to consider less high-profile stages. Chastain is a highly regarded film actor, but her interpretation of Catherine Sloper was too tentative to compete with the luminous memory of Cherry Jones' Tony-winning 1995 performance.

Producers might come calling for Clarke, whose sexy-warrior image in HBO's ad campaign for "Game of Thrones" was all over the subway stations when "Breakfast at Tiffany's" opened in the spring. But breeding dragons on cable TV isn't the best preparation for taking on a theatrical role immortalized in the movies by the one and only Audrey Hepburn.

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