Hollywood Stars Who Got Their Start on Broadway: The Next Generation

The Bui Brothers

Okay, Hollywooders. Last week’s round-up of Broadway stars turned Hollywood stars focused on some OG Broadway-to-Hollywood celebrities that are widely known and loved. But we had so much fun digging into the backgrounds of legends like Idina Menzel and Viola Davis that we decided it’s time for part 2! 

Let’s explore the backgrounds of some of “the next generation”–a selection of Hollywood’s biggest stars, still reaching their peak, who also got their start on the Great White Way. 

Broadway Stars: Josh Gad

Whether you realize it or not, all of the lead actors from the blockbuster sensation Frozen 1st graced Broadway stages before the silver screen. After learning all about Idina Menzel in part 1 of this series, let’s zoom in on 1 of her co-stars and his theatrical roots.

While Josh Gad technically made his film debut before his Broadway debut with Mary and Joe (2002), we’re going to count him in the Broadway category because it’s clear he’s a theater nerd at heart (and we say that with love — it takes 1 to know 1!) 

Did you know that 2 years before Josh became famous in the role of Olaf the snowman in Frozen, he was nominated for a Tony Award? While the actor made his Broadway debut in 2005 in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Josh continued to cut his teeth on the stage until 2011 when he originated the role of Elder Cunningham in The Book of Mormon by South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone. For his performance, Josh was nominated for a Tony for Best Leading Actor in a Musical, nominated in the same category alongside his co-star, Andrew Rannells (another Broadway-to-Hollywood favorite of ours here at Hollywood.com.)

After his phenomenal run as Elder Cunningham came to a close in mid-2012, Josh Gad became #bookedandbusy in the Hollywood scene. Coincidentally, Frozen was not his first animated film about winter climates. That distinction goes to Ice Age: Continental Drift, in which the actor portrayed Louis the molehog. The following year, Josh Gad starred alongside Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson in The Internship and pivoted with his performance as Steve Wozniak in the Steve Jobs biopic Jobs directed by Joshua Michael Stern. Pair the success of those 2 films with the knock-your-socks-off pop-cultural domination of Frozen and it’s pretty clear that Josh probably had a better 2013 than anyone else we can think of!

No stranger to cinema for young audiences, Josh is also known to young audiences as LeFou from the 2017 live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast. In the film that stars Emma Watson, Josh had the chance to sing and dance, only this time in the flesh and not as a cartoon or CGI character. 

2018 brought Josh’s first collaboration with famed director Sir Kenneth Brannagh when he starred as Hector MacQueen in Kenneth’s film adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express, the beloved Agatha Christie murder-mystery.

A year later in 2019, it was the ‘year of the sequels’ for Josh. His films Frozen II and The Angry Birds Movie II (he appeared in the 1st The Angry Birds Movie in 2016) were released 3 months apart and were both met with wild commercial success and decent critical acclaim. During that year, Josh was busy filming his second feature directed by Kenneth Brannagh. This time it was a film adaptation of the young adult science fiction novel Artemis Fowl. The movie was released exclusively on Disney+ in June of 2020 after plans for a conventional theatrical release were scrapped due to COVID-19 restrictions. 

During this time, in the doldrums of 2020, while everyone else was playing Animal Crossing and attempting to bake sourdough, Josh Gad finally had some time to dedicate to a very cool project: a YouTube series of all things! Capitalizing on the convenience of video conferencing, Josh created Reunited Apart, an online talk show series that launched in April 2020, with the purpose of reuniting the casts of beloved films and television series. He interviewed casts of Hollywood all-star films such as The Goonies, Lord of the Rings, and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off with the enthusiasm and curiosity of a super fan, and the legitimacy of an A-list celebrity. We highly recommend binging a few episodes of Reunited Apart. You’ll definitely learn a few pieces of trivia and fun backstories about your favorite movies that you never knew before!

Broadway Stars: Ben Platt

So, depending on your Broadway know-how, maybe you’ve heard of Ben Platt and maybe you haven’t yet. If you fall into the latter category, prepare thyself! Ben has already performed at Radio City Music Hall and his momentum is only gaining speed! So, where’d he get his big break? 

Coincidentally, as Elder Cunningham in Book of Mormon, just like Josh Gad! (The role must be a good luck charm for skyrocketing fame!) Ben Platt, an LA native who grew up doing musical theater and performing with his siblings as “the von Platt family singers.” Fun fact: When Ben was only 9 years old, he performed as Winthrop Paroo in The Music Man at the Hollywood Bowl in a production that starred famed musical theater legend Kristin Chenoweth. He booked a few national tours throughout his formative years, including stints in Caroline or Change and Les Misérables. After moving to New York City to attend Columbia University, Ben was dropped out of school after 7 weeks to perform in the Chicago production of The Book of Mormon

In January 2014, 3 months after the end of The Book of Mormon’s run at the Bank of America Theater in Chicago, Ben Platt reprised the role in the ongoing Broadway production, making his official Broadway debut.  

During Ben’s The Book of Mormon chapter, a little-known musical comedy film came out called Pitch Perfect. You may remember his performance as Benji Applebaum, the nerdy and bashfully talented roommate of the film’s male lead, Skylar Astin (another Broadway-to-Hollywood darling and a real-life close pal of Ben’s.) The movie received massive critical and commercial success and audiences were delighted to see Ben reprise his role as Benji in the film’s sequel, Pitch Perfect II in 2015. That same year, Ben Platt also starred in Jonathan Demme’s Ricki and the Flash, starring Broadway OGs Meryl Streep and Audra McDonald.

2016 brought Ben Platt’s biggest Broadway performance yet when he originated the titular role in the hit musical Dear Evan Hansen with music and lyrics by LaLaLand lyricists, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. Ben’s performance not only caused the show to be sold out for months, it also earned a whopping 9 Tony Award nominations that year. At the 71st Tony Awards, 23 year old Ben became the youngest actor ever to win a Tony Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical. 

Since 2019, Ben Platt has starred as Payton Hobart in the Netflix comedy-drama series The Politician. The 2nd season was released in mid-2020, just in time for it to be binge-watched around the world. Ben was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Television Series, Musical or Comedy. (He also released an album of songs that he sang in the series.) 

Additionally in 2020, Ben announced that he would be releasing a TV special of his Radio City Music Hall concert, which was the last stop on his tour of his album debut, Sing to Me Instead. The concert special was released on Netflix in May of 2020. 

If you’re unfamiliar with Ben Platt’s work thus far, we recommend getting acquainted with his existing body of work before the release of all of the upcoming projects he has on the horizon. Later this month, Ben will appear in Broken Diamonds, a drama feature in which the actor stars opposite Lola Kirke (sister of Girls star Jemima Kirke.) The film’s premiere and release, like many others originally planned for 2020, was pushed until this summer. Also, fans can look forward to a film adaptation of Dear Evan Hansen, in which Ben will reprise his role as Evan Hansen on the big screen. (You can find the film’s official trailer here.) The film, directed by The Perks of Being A Wallflower author and director, Stephen Chbosky, will be released in theaters later this year on September 24. Mark your calendars, musical fans! 

Currently in the Ben Platt pipeline: The People We Hate at the Wedding starring Allison Janney and Schitt Creek’s Annie Murphy as well as a film adaptation of Merrily We Roll Along, Stephen Sondheim’s famed musical, that will be directed by Richard Linklater. Ben is starring opposite his real-life best friend and fellow Broadway-to-Hollywood star, Beanie Feldstein

We’re calling it now: us here at Hollywood.com smell an EGOT in this star’s future.

Broadway Stars: Anna Kendrick

Rewinding back to Pitch Perfect, which starred several Broadway darlings, let’s take a deep dive into the career of the film’s star, Anna Kendrick

While Hollywood fans might have first learned of her from her breakout role in the 2009 comedy-drama Up In The Air, starring George Clooney, or perhaps her performance as Jessica Stanley in the Twilight Saga, Anna’s name has been on the tongues of Broadway critics as early as 1998. 

Anna Kendrick made her Broadway debut at the age of 12 when she landed a supporting role in High Society, a 1998 revival of Cole Porter’s famed musical comedy. Her performance was so noteworthy to critics and audiences alike that she was nominated for a Tony Award that year for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical. 

2003 brought more musical fame to Anna, who was cast in a supporting role in a production of Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music with the New York City Opera. The same year, she made her film debut in the movie musical Camp, a cult classic among theater nerds worldwide, cementing her in the Broadway-Hollywood public sphere. 

After the successes of Up in the Air and the Twilight films, Anna has become 1 of Hollywood’s leading movie musical performers. Not only was she a hit in the big studio Pitch Perfect trilogy, but Anna has also had roles in smaller-budget movie musicals including a screen adaptation of Jason Robert Brown’s The Last Five Years, directed by Richard LaGravenese. While the film received mixed reviews from critics, fans lauded Anna’s performance as Cathy in the 2 person romantic drama. 

Fans of Anna were even more thrilled to learn that she would be playing the role of Cinderella in the 2014 Disney adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods. Starring A-list celebrities such as Johnny Depp, Meryl Streep, and James Corden, Anna bemused and wowed viewers of the film, even those who had never before heard of or seen Into the Woods on stage. Her sweet soprano voice had become 1 of the most famous in Hollywood. 

However, Anna continued to star in non-musical films including 2016’s The Accountant, opposite fellow New Englander Ben Affleck, and Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates with Zac Efron, Aubrey Plaza, and her Pitch Perfect co-star, Adam DeVine. Also that year, Anna starred in comedy-drama The Hollars, alongside The Office’s John Krasinski, who also directed the film. 

To complement the full plate of her newly-released films in 2016, Anna published a collection of autobiographical essays that year entitled Scrappy Little Nobody. “My goals for this book were to make people laugh, to feel connected to people, and maybe get people to feel more connected to me,” Anna told Vogue in November 2016. 

Earlier this year, Anna starred in the science-fiction thriller Stowaway, which was released on Netflix in April 2021. As for upcoming film projects, she can be seen in the crime thriller Unsound, where she plays a state trooper who suffers irreversible hearing loss. The film has yet to announce a release date. Right now, the Broadway-turned-Hollywood starlet is in Ontario filming  Alice, Darling, a psychological thriller from Lionsgate that we are already yearning to see the trailer of. This week, Ontario residents reported seeing Anna all over the town of Peterborough where the film is currently in production. 

If you’re an Ontario resident, keep your eyes peeled for the celebrity, who has recently been spotted jogging through her hometown of Warsaw.

Broadway Stars: Cynthia Erivo

If you’ve never heard the name Cynthia Erivo, trust us when we assure you that she is already a Broadway living legend, all 5 feet and 1 inch of her! The only Brit to be included in this article, Cynthia shot to stardom in a revival production of The Color Purple, a musical adaptation of Alice Walker’s seminal novel with the same title. While Cynthia Erivo 1st portrayed the lead role of Celie in the 2013 West End production of the musical, she made her Broadway debut by reprising the part which she performed (in 8 shows a week!) from 2015 through 2017.

Her Broadway performance single-handedly got the star 3 quarters of the way to an EGOT. Isn’t that incredible? Not only did she earn a Tony Award in 2016 for Best Actress in a Musical, but she also earned a Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album. In addition, Cynthia, along with the rest of The Color Purple’s cast earned a Daytime Emmy Award the following year for their performance on NBC’s The Today Show in May of 2016. 

Following her breakout success on Broadway, Cynthia transitioned from the stage to the screen, starring in 2 hit blockbusters in 2018: Widows (alongside Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, and Colin Farrel) and Bad Times at the El Royale (starring Jeff Bridges, Dakota Johnson, and Jon Hamm.) 

In 2019, Cynthia Erivo had her biggest Hollywood role yet. She played Harriet Tubman in the blockbuster biopic film Harriet. The movie lived up to its pre-release hype, and Cynthia did not disappoint! In fact, her performance as Harriet Tubman was so compelling that she was nominated for an Oscar in 2019 for Best Actress in a Leading Role. In addition, the actor/musician was nominated for a 2nd Oscar that year for her song “Stand Up,” which Cynthia wrote and recorded for the film. While she did not win either Oscar Award, the nominations cemented her as a rightful star in Hollywood and brought even more critical acclaim to her performance in Harriet.

Last year, Cynthia Erivo starred in another biographical role. This time in the National Geographic anthology series Genius: Aretha where she portrayed the queen of soul, Aretha Franklin.

“For me, playing both Aretha and Harriet, I wanted to make sure people understood the humanity in each 1 of them,” Erivo told Deadline. “Before the heroism they shared, they were human beings. That is first and foremost.”

It was recently announced that Cynthia’s performance in the series was nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie. 

As far as upcoming projects go, Cynthia Erivo is taking the momentum of her recent string of successes and continuing full speed ahead. Just last month, the star released a single titled “The Good.” It is the first single from her debut studio album, Ch. 1 vs. 1, which will be released on September 17th of this year. 

In addition, Cynthia will be starring as “the Blue Fairy” in Disney’s live-action film adaptation of Pinocchio, directed by Robert Zemeckis. She will be starring opposite Tom Hanks as Gepetto, with additional voice acting by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Keegan-Michael Key, and Lorraine Bracco. Talk about a stacked cast! 

While principal photography began for the film in March of this year, no release date has been set. However, it was announced in December of 2020 that the film would forgo a theatrical release and be released exclusively on Disney+. 

Let the beat roll on…

Now that we’ve had a chance to explore the careers of a few of the leading stars from the “next generation” of Broadway-turned-Hollywood stars, we think you’ll be a lot better at spotting additional film stars with musical theater backgrounds. We could add about 30 more names to this list, by the way. There’s definitely no lack of Broadway talent that has transcended to the film and television world, and we think Hollywood is infinitely better because of it!

If you missed the last article in this series, you can find it here: Hollywood stars who got their start on Broadway: The OGs!

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