Fans of Broadway’s The Book of Mormon, rejoice! A rep for Andrew Rannells has confirmed the Tony-nominated actor has signed on to star in Ryan Murphy’s untitled NBC comedy pilot about a gay couple and their surrogate mother. (I “Believe” that this will turn out to be a good choice!) It’s exciting news for any theater lover, but, of course, Rannells isn’t the first stage vet to make the leap onto the small screen. In fact, 2012 is shaping up to be a very Broadway-friendly year for television: Not only will we soon see Broadway staple Megan Hilty — and fellow thesps Christian Borle, Brian d’Arcy James and Will Chase — star on NBC’s Smash, but news came earlier this week that Glee has cast stage vet Brian Stokes Mitchell as one of Rachel’s gay dads.
Unfortunately, though I can’t be the only one excitedly crossing my fingers for Smash, star power in the theatre doesn’t always translate onto TV. Rannells, Hilty, and Mitchell join a long list of stage veterans who have made the transition to television – or at least attempted it. Save for a few cases of extravagant luck, often the most celebrated stage performers wind up in thankless roles in the ensembles of failed sitcoms or in bodybags on Law & Order. But how did some of Broadway’s more notable stars manage a switch to the small screen? Here’s a rundown of some who forged a path from the Great White Way to TV land – and how they fared:
Name: Matthew Morrison
Broadway experience: Before his curly hair was a Sue Sylvester punchline, it was pomaded into oblivion when Morrison originated the role of heartthrob Link Larkin in Hairspray.
Segue into TV: Morrison shows the gamut of emotions – including “nervous about regionals” and “anxious about regionals” – on Fox’s Glee.
Success?: The award-winning Glee, for all its critics, is the definition of a digital phenomenon. Morrison should count himself incredibly lucky that Glee didn’t end up as Viva Laughlin: High School Edition.
Watch: “It Takes Two” – Hairspray
Name: Kristin Chenoweth
Broadway experience: Chenoweth is best known for originating the role of Glinda in the mega hit musical Wicked. She won a Tony in 1999 for her hilarious Sally Brown in You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown, and has since been back to the stage with a number of leading roles, including playing opposite Sean Hayes in Promises, Promises.
Segue into TV: She first appeared in The West Wing as deputy press secretary Annabeth Schott before gaining mainstream attention as quirky waitress Olive Snook in Pushing Daisies.
Success?: She won over audiences of the criminally short-lived Daisies, nabbing two Emmy nominations (and winning in 2009). She grabbed two more nods for her guest work on Glee as trainwreck diva April Rhodes, and she’ll try her luck again as a leading lady on ABC’s upcoming dramedy GCB.
Watch: “Popular” – Wicked
Name: Katie Finneran
Broadway experience: Truly a veteran, Finneran’s Broadway career spans 20 years. Her recent show-stopping turn in Promises, Promises (alongside Chenoweth) won her the Tony… for which she was only onstage for 15 minutes.
Segue into TV: Finneran co-stars with Jaime Pressly on ABC’s I Hate My Teenage Daughter, playing a woman who (SPOILER ALERT!) hates her teenage daughter.
Success?: The show’s not exactly a hit. Whether it gets a second season is still up in the air, but poor critical reception isn’t helping the matter.
Name: Jesse Tyler Ferguson
Broadway experience: Ferguson’s performance as cat-owning spaz Leaf Coneybear was one of the standouts of 2005’s The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.
Segue into TV: He was one of the only likeable characters on CBS’s polarizing sitcom The Class, but wasn’t enough to save the show from tanking.
Success?: Luckily for Ferguson, he found massive success on Modern Family as neurotic Mitchell Pritchett, which earned him two Emmy nominations and has since turned him into a household name (or, at the very least, the country’s most recognizable redhead).
Name: Sara Ramirez
Broadway experience: Ramirez was only one of the reasons why Monty Python’s Spamalot was the hit of the 2005 season, and she won a Tony for her raucously funny Lady of the Lake.
Segue into TV: ABC execs were so impressed with her Spamalot performance that they offered her a role on any show she wanted – to which she responded wisely by choosing to join the cast of the still-young Grey’s Anatomy.
Success?: It’s Grey’s Anatomy. What do you think?
Name: Laura Benanti
Broadway experience: She won a Tony for a star-making turn as the titular stripper in Gypsy, but Benanti has been dazzling audiences on the stage since 1998 in Into the Woods, Nine, and The Wedding Singer. Most recently, she was the only good part of the ill-fated Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.
Segue into TV: She starred in the ensemble comedy Starved in 2005 and played the eldest of bunnies on NBC’s ill-fated The Playboy Club last fall.
Success?: Not so much. Starved only lasted seven episodes, and although she got to show off her pipes in Playboy Club, the show’s off-camera controversies made more headlines than Benanti, who has yet to find a successful television vehicle.
Name: Dan Fogler
Broadway experience: His first and only Broadway credit won him a Tony in 2005 for The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.
Segue into TV: Fogler landed a primo role on ABC’s 22-minute celebration of testosterone, Man Up.
Success?: ABC pulled the plug after only a few episodes. Man down.
Name: Cheyenne Jackson
Broadway experience: Although never nominated for a Tony, Jackson is a mainstay on the stage and a true fan favorite, originating roles in All Shook Up, Xanadu, and Finian’s Rainbow.
Segue into TV: Jackson plays TGS cast member Danny Baker on 30 Rock and followed up with a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it stint on Glee.
Success?: Tragically underused. His recurring role on 30 Rock is one of the show’s hidden treasures.
Watch: “Don’t Walk Away” – Xanadu
Name: Norbert Leo Butz
Broadway experience: Butz is a critical darling onstage, stealing the show in the original companies of Wicked, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and Catch Me If You Can, which won him the Tony (Rannells’ Tony… ) last year.
Segue into TV: ABC’s The Deep End in 2010.
Success?: As a quirky law drama, the show looked promising, but ended up a little less Good Wife and a little more Eli Stone. Butz’s larger-than-life persona wasn’t able to contain itself to the small screen, and he returned to the stage soon after.
Name: Lea Michele
Broadway experience: Michele played both Young Cosette and Young Eponine in Les Misérables, a rite of passage for all budding stage divas. Years later, she blew audiences away with her stellar performance in Spring Awakening.
Segue into TV: Like Morrison, she was plucked from Broadway and escorted down the golden road of Glee, which was forged from the solid gold tears of Ryan Murphy.
Success?: Michele has proven herself to be a dazzler on the red carpet and a fashionista favorite. Even if Glee goes down the tubes, Michele most certainly will not.
For every warm welcome that TV gives to a Broadway star, there seems to be an equally unsuccessful rejection. The Book of Mormon has made such a splash recently that it’d be a sin for Rannells to not find success on television. That, of course, would just be a big, fat hasa diga.