Hollywood stars at center of Broadway backlash

Mon May 30, 2011 8:18am EDT
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By Suzy Evans

NEW YORK (Back Stage) - Every year, Hollywood celebrities head to Broadway where they get plenty of attention for their headlining efforts.

The Tony Awards, being presented on June 12, are the ultimate judge of the skills of any stage actor, famous or not, and many lesser-known performers worry that the value of the award diminishes as film stars continue to take them home.

Last year's star-studded broadcast disheartened many New York actors, including Hunter Foster, who started the Facebook group Give the Tonys Back to Broadway!! in an effort to combat the Tinseltown effect. With the now almost 9,000-member group, Foster hopes to restore the ceremony as a beacon of hope for the next generation of stage performers.

Whether stage actors like his sister, Sutton Foster -- nominated this year for her performance in "Anything Goes" -- will disappear from Broadway's future if the Tonys continue to focus on Hollywood stars is debatable. Many actors appearing on Broadway -- including Al Pacino, a nominee this year for "The Merchant of Venice" -- began their careers on stage, but their mass appeal comes from their films.

"I have worked my ass off to get to where I am, so I understand that struggle," Scarlett Johansson -- who was one of four Hollywood actors to win a Tony in 2010 -- told BroadwayWorld.com last year. "If somebody is cast because they are a name but they're not right for the job, well, it's very frustrating."

Experts and actors agree, however, that celebrities are necessary for some producers to bankroll productions, and a famous headliner brings more stable jobs for New York actors.

This year's list of nominees lacks many of the Broadway season's big names -- including Chris Rock, Robin Williams, Ben Stiller, and Daniel Radcliffe. David Sheward, executive editor of Back Stage and a Tony voter, blogged about how the dearth of well-known nominees could be a response by the nominating committee to last year's backlash.

However, Charlotte St. Martin, executive director of the Broadway League, which presents the awards with the American Theater Wing, said there is no correlation between last year's response and this year's nominees.   Continued...

<p>Actress Scarlett Johansson poses with her Tony for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play for her work in "A View from the Bridge" at the American Theatre Wing's 64th annual Tony Awards ceremony in New York, June 13, 2010. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson</p>