“Out of thousands of kids they picked me, and I was so blessed.”
Before making it big in Hollywood, some celebs had their breakout moment in the Big Apple, thanks to a starring role on Broadway! And while many of those stars have become known for their love of all things musical theater, there are quite a few surprises who actually first made a name for themselves on The Great White Way.
And while making the jump from stage to screen may seem like a difficult task, Broadway’s rigorous schedule and demanding requirements well prepared these future stars for life on set. By the time they arrived in Hollywood, they were already a triple threat, ready to take on their next adventure.
Read on to find out which stars had their breakout moment on Broadway…
Ariana Grande was involved in musical theater for much of her adolescence and did community theater in Florida, taking part in productions like “Annie” and “The Wizard of Oz.” Then in 2008, she was selected from thousands of children to make her Broadway debut in “13.”
“I auditioned for ’13,’ and out of thousands of kids they picked me, and I was so blessed…I was just in the ensemble, I barely had any lines, but they gave me all the highest harmonies. I was belting my ass off the whole time and it was incredibly challenging and wonderful. My favorite thing about doing ’13’ was that Jason Robert Brown, who wrote the score, loved to push people to their limits vocally and I loved that. My range expanded because of ’13,'” Ariana once told Complex.
2. Nick Jonas
After being discovered as a child during a trip to the hair salon with his mom, Nick landed his first role as an understudy for Tiny Tim in “A Christmas Carol.” Nick made his debut at just eight-years-old and went on to appear in shows like “Annie Get Your Gun”, “Beauty and the Beast”, and “Les Misérables.”
“Learning that work ethic at a really young age was very influential for me as a person and really shaped me as a performer and a person,” Nick told Patch about getting his start on Broadway.
Before “Sex and the City,” Sarah Jessica Parker made her Broadway debut when she was just eight-years-old. After nailing her first ever audition for “Little Match Girl,” her family packed up and moved to New York City. When she was 11, she landed a role in a revival of William Archibald’s “The Innocents” and then truly had her chance to shine when she was promoted from understudy to the starring role in the original Broadway production of “Annie.”
“When I was auditioning as a kid, I loved it. I’m out of school if I get this job. I’m getting paid. I get to imagine what it’s like living at the turn of the century…It’s something that you’re curious about, which is I guess fantasy,” she said on “The Howard Stern Show.”
Anna Kendrick got her start in community theater when she was just six-years-old and just a few years later, she was on Broadway. At age 12, she made her Broadway debut in “High Society” playing Dinah Lord — a role which actually earned her a Tony nomination.
“I can’t now say what it was that originally drew me to performing, because it’s very possible that at 6 it was just that I wanted people to be looking at me and paying attention to me. Then it sort of transformed into something that was really meaningful for me…It became the way that I learn about myself and the way that I learn about other people,” Anna told NPR.
5. Kristen Bell
Kristen Bell was a Broadway darling before she starred in “Veronica Mars.” While she was a student at New York University, Kristen landed a starring role in the Broadway musical version of “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.” She dropped out of school just a few credits short of graduation in order to take on the role, which ended up being short-lived. Although the production didn’t last long, she went on to appear in a revival of “The Crucible” the following year.
As a child, Sarah Hyland appeared in an off-Broadway production of “Annie” before jumping to the big leagues. When she was 16, she landed her most notable role as Jackie in the original production of “Grey Gardens.” While Sarah hasn’t spoken out much about her time on Broadway, she has said that she would always be open to other musical opportunities.
After graduating from Juilliard, Viola Davis got her start in the Broadway play “Seven Guitars” in 1996. Not only did the production help launch her career but she says the role, as well as playwright August Wilson, helped her realize something important about herself.
“During ‘Seven Guitars’ she has a monologue that absolutely is like an aria. And [August] said he would always watch it, and he would always say, ‘Viola, you are just so beautiful.’ And — I don’t know. I never felt feminine. I never felt like I could fit into that sort of confines of what it meant, or the stereotypical ways of what being a woman was about until I did ‘Seven Guitars,'” Viola told CBS.
Before John Travolta took the lead in the big screen version of “Grease,” he was actually in the Broadway production of the musical. Although he has come to be known as Danny Zuko, he was actually in a different role!
“I did the road company of ‘Grease’ and the Broadway show but I wasn’t in the lead role, I was in a supporting role called Doody. But my daydream was to be in the film and I really had strong postulates to be in that movie and five years later, boom! It happened in the part that I really wanted, which was Danny,” John said on “Live With Kelly & Ryan.”
9. Meryl Streep
Shortly after graduating from the Yale School of Drama, Meryl Streep made her Broadway debut in a production of “Trelawny of the Wells.” Over the next few years, she went on to appear in several other productions including “A Memory of Two Mondays,” “27 Wagons Full of Cotton,” and “Secret Service.” Her roles earned her numerous Tony nominations, including Outstanding Actress in a Play and Outstanding Actress in a Musical.
Jesse Tyler Ferguson stepped foot on a Broadway stage for the first time when he was cast in a production of “On The Town” at age 21. Over the next few years, he took part in other musicals including the original production of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” and “On The Twentieth Century.” Even after landing his starring role on “Modern Family” Jesse continued his love of theater in different productions, including Shakespeare in the Park.
“Shakespeare in the Park and Public Theater – I actually got my Equity card doing ‘On The Town’ there in 1997 so it truly is my artistic home in New York City…As actors…we love doing live theater. The reason we do it is because there’s that great interplay between the audience and there’s a great electricity there,” Jesse told Steve Adubato.
11. Gaten Matarazzo
Even before landing a role on “Stranger Things,” Gaten Matarazzo was busy in the world of entertainment. When he was just nine, he made his Broadway debut as Benjamin in “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.” He later took part in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular before being cast as Gavroche in “Les Misérables” — a role which he didn’t actually get at first!
“With other auditions and other roles I didn’t get, I just had to learn to forget about it, but ‘Les Mis’ I was obsessed with getting. I needed to get my dream role. I was on Broadway for a year, and then on the tour for six-and-a-half months. I’d go to school in the morning and then miss my last period of the day. I’d do my homework at the theater when I wasn’t onstage. We’d get out at 11. I’d get home about 1:30 am and then get up at 6:30 am to do it all over again,” Gaten told SJ Mag.
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