Producers have experienced a wide variety of headaches while shooting across the past year, but one mostly unforeseen plus has perked up amidst the pandemic: The amount of Broadway talent available for television, with New York’s esteemed theater district down for the long term.
Stage stars are popping up in the cast of HBO dramas Succession and Mare of Easttown, Epix dramedy Bridge and Tunnel, and a range of Hallmark Channel holiday films, including Mix Up in the Mediterranean.
Michelle Vicary, executive VP of programming at Hallmark parent Crown Media Family Networks, said the network has been keen to tap Broadway talent for a couple years, but saw more opportunities open up when Broadway went on hiatus. “Our goal as we move forward is, we want to continue to work with them.” Vicary said. “With Broadway down, our ability to tap into this amazing talent is really obvious for us to do.”
Mare of Easttown, with Kate Winslet playing a detective in a working-class Pennsylvania town, has Broadway talent such as Joe Tippett (who starred in Waitress) and Neal Huff (who was in To Kill a Mockingbird) in the cast. Tippett plays Dan, husband of Mare’s best friend, and Huff portrays a priest.
Mare of Easttown creator Brad Ingelsby was on board with Broadway talent right away. “Brad inhaled it,” said casting director Avy Kaufman. “He loved it.”
Good TV projects appear to be a logical pursuit for a stage actor stuck at home, waiting for theaters to reopen. “I would imagine those actors would be looking for an outlet; I hope they’re getting work,” Ingelsby said. “I hope the ramp-up in the TV world and the movie space would provide opportunities.”
To be sure, Broadway talent has long appeared on television. One needs only to leaf through a Playbill to see how many cast members have turned up in the various Law & Order shows. More of the thespians are available to work these days. “A lot of it has to do with availability,” Kaufman said. “People just plainly were not available. Now, it’s let’s just keep people working.”
Stars of the stage often bring unique gifts to the set that may not be available from a veteran screen actor. Shooting Epix’s Bridge and Tunnel, about a group of college grads on Long Island pondering their grand life plans, creator Edward Burns acknowledged “access to such a deep pool of actors” in New York. “With Broadway down,” he added, “it’s a deeper pool.”
Barrett Wilbert Weed, who starred in Mean Girls on Broadway, plays Lizzie, who sings in an all-female punk band in Bridge and Tunnel. “She’s a big deal on Broadway, a major singer,” Burns said. “She’s probably not available otherwise.”
The Hallmark Christmas movie One Royal Holiday initially did not have a musical number. But when Broadway standouts Laura Osnes, whose stage credits include playing Cinderella in Cinderella and Sandy in Grease, and Aaron Tveit, who starred in Moulin Rouge!, came on board on the project, they suggested a song. The pair ended up performing a version of “Winter Wonderland” that opens the movie.
Vicary said it’s usually a smooth transition for a stage star to do television. “They are consummate professionals who are able to navigate the TV screen as easily as they do Broadway,” she said.
What helps the theater stars work out at Hallmark is that a Broadway show and Hallmark movie have similar goals in terms of reaching an audience. “So much of what Broadway does is what Hallmark does — it makes you feel good, feel positive, feel better about the world,” Vicary said.
Curtain Raiser Come Fall
Last month, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city plans to set up a coronavirus vaccination site on Broadway to give shots to theater industry workers, in addition to a mobile vaccination unit to serve theater workers beyond Broadway.
Theaters in New York State were permitted to open April 2 at 33% capacity, with a limit of 100 people indoors. That’s not enough to make Broadway productions viable.
Mayor de Blasio hopes to reopen Broadway theaters in the fall. “This is going to be a year to turn things around,” de Blasio told The New York Times. “It’s time to raise the curtain and bring Broadway back.”
Other TV productions boasting Broadway talent include Succession, which has three-time Tony nominee Linda Emond on board to play a senior White House aide in season three, and the Showtime drama Rust, which borrows Bill Camp and Dallas Roberts from the stage, and whose lead, Jeff Daniels, played Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird.
At Hallmark, Jeremy Jordan, who starred in West Side Story and Waitress on Broadway, had the lead in movie Holly & Ivy last year (“one of the most beautiful projects we’ve done,” said Vicary), and stars in Mix Up in the Mediterranean, which premiered on Hallmark Feb. 20. That one is about a small-town cook who impersonates his twin, a big-city chef, to compete in a culinary contest, and falls in love. Jordan played both.
Even when Broadway is up and running again, Hallmark execs hope stage talent will think about doing their movies in between Broadway shows. “What an honor it’s been to broaden our work with these amazingly talented people,” Vicary said. “It’s such a win for our network, and we look forward to doing more.”
Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.
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