Big Stars You Have Seen Treading The Boards, But Before They Became Famous?

DottieD'Luscia Profile Photo
Broadway Legend
I saw on IBDB that Phylicia Rashad was in the original cast of Dreamgirls and understudies Deena. I'm wondering if anyone here had seen her. I saw the production in 1983.
Hey Dottie! Did your colleagues enjoy the cake even though your cat decided to sit on it? ~GuyfromGermany
SonofRobbieJ Profile Photo
Broadway Legend
I also remember seeing a show at Second Stage in 1998. It was THIS IS OUR YOUTH and it featured an actor I'd never seen before. But LORD did I want him to sleep inside me.

Mark Ruffalo...I still love you!!!
ljay889 Profile Photo
Broadway Legend
While I don't think he's a "big" star, I saw Andrew Rannells go on as Link in Hairspray when he was the understudy. I remember thinking he was fantastic.

*edit* Just realized someone said the same thing.
Updated On: 1/16/13 at 12:46 PM
Broadway Legend
Michael Shannon made his professional debut at my family's theatre, The Illinois Theatre Center, when he was 16 years old. We knew he was headed for big things.

Michael Shannon in WINTERSET - 1990
Updated On: 1/16/13 at 01:02 PM
artscallion Profile Photo
Broadway Legend
Just remembered (I'd mentioned it here before in a thread on The Performers) That I saw Ari Graynor as Little Red in Into the Woods when she was thirteen. You tell then that she was destined for success. Loads of poise, presence and personality for someone so young. Directed by Oskar Eustice, she held her own among some pretty tough cookies in that company.
Art has a double face, of expression and illusion.
WestVillage Profile Photo
Broadway Star
Laura Benanti in a community theatre production of Into the Woods
Betty Buckley in 1776
Annette Bening and Tim Daly in Coastal Disturbances
Courtney B. Vance in Fences
Georgia Engle in Hello, Dolly
Bonnie Franklin in Applause
Ann Reinking in A Chorus Line
Jason Alexander and Giancarlo Esposito in Merrily We Roll Along

Updated On: 1/16/13 at 04:36 PM
Phantom of London Profile Photo
Phantom of London
Broadway Legend
I am also intrigued in your antidotes of when you looked through your old playbill collection and then "***holy Cow*** was he/she really in the show and I didn't realise, hasn't they gone on and forged a massive career for themselves" moments.
Broadway Legend
Robbie, Lewis was actually quite good in Pillars of the Community, as I recall it. I had no idea who he was at the time since I hadn't watched Band of Brothers or any of his UK projects.

And while I missed Chandra Wilson in Caroline, I did see Anika Noni Rose, though that's hardly a rarity here. Michael Shannon I first saw in Bug, which I guess was a tiny bit before Revolutionary Road and such.
AC126748 Profile Photo
Broadway Legend
I, too, saw Lewis in the Fiennes' Hamlet. He didn't make an impression either way, as I had completely forgotten he had played Laertes until I read it in a Homeland-related interview.

My first exposure to Michael Shannon was as Chris in Killer Joe, Off-Broadway. He was Chris. Sarah Paulson was Dottie. I believe it was the NYC stage debut of both.
"You travel alone because other people are only there to remind you how much that hook hurts that we all bit down on. Wait for that one day we can bite free and get back out there in space where we belong, sail back over water, over skies, into space, the hook finally out of our mouths and we wander back out there in space spawning to other planets never to return hurrah to earth and we'll look back and can't even see these lives here anymore. Only the taste of blood to remind us we ever existed. The earth is small. We're gone. We're dead. We're safe." -John Guare, Landscape of the Body
GavestonPS Profile Photo
Broadway Legend
Since we seem to be including Broadway appearances as unknowns, I'll add Patti LuPone in WORKING. Oddly inconsistent show and I don't think she even had a solo.

But she was the most memorable actor on stage. I'll never forget her simple and heartfelt monologue as the Prostitute. Oddly, I barely remember her earlier and showier performance in ROBBER BRIDEGROOM.
justoldbill Profile Photo
Broadway Star
Christopher Walken as Riff in WEST SIDE STORY, summer stock, mid-1960's.
A then-unknown Canadian dancer named Neve Campbell was in the ballet corps of Phantom when I saw it in Toronto, she was a Meg understudy too. :)
ILuv2shop531 Profile Photo
Broadway Star
Aaron Tveit in Hairspray. Although he had done the Rent tour this was his first New York role & Broadway debut & nobody really knew who he was yet.
Roscoe Profile Photo
Broadway Legend
I saw HAMLET at the Public in the 1980s, with Kevin Kline as Hamlet and this younger guy named David Hyde Pierce as Laertes.
"If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don't have to worry about the answers." Thomas Pynchon, GRAVITY'S RAINBOW "Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away." Philip K. Dick My blog:
Reginald Tresilian Profile Photo
Reginald Tresilian
Broadway Legend
Roscoe, then you also saw Harriet Harris--of all people--as Ophelia.

Roscoe Profile Photo
Broadway Legend
I guess that was Harriet Harris -- I had thought it was Diane Venora as Ophelia, but a quick online check confirmed that Venora was in the second Kline Hamlet, the one he directed himself.

Harris and Hyde Pierce were by far the best things about this production. I seem to remember Harriet Harris' Ophelia handing out pieces of paper (presumably Hamlet's love letters) instead of flowers during the mad scene.
"If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don't have to worry about the answers." Thomas Pynchon, GRAVITY'S RAINBOW "Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away." Philip K. Dick My blog:
Reginald Tresilian Profile Photo
Reginald Tresilian
Broadway Legend
I'm not a hundred percent certain, but I think the twists of paper instead of flowers was Venora again.

(Side bar: They're never flowers anymore, are they? In Ingmar Berman's production at BAM, I seem to recall they were nails or spikes of some kind.)
doodlenyc Profile Photo
Broadway Legend
A great resource for this kind of info is the Theater World annuals because they list the current casts of long running shows. It's fun to see who replaced whom. Of course, it doesn't mean you saw them perform...but occasionally you read through a cast list and realize you did see someone now famous.

I did see Donna Murphy as Edwin Drood just before she made a splash in "Song of Singapore".
"Carson has combined his passion for helping children with his love for one of Cincinnati's favorite past times - cornhole - to create a unique and exciting event perfect for a corporate outing, entertaining clients or family fun."

"In Oz, the verb is douchifizzation." PRS

Roscoe Profile Photo
Broadway Legend
Reg, you're probably right, it was Venora with the paper, I just seem to have mixed them up pretty thoroughly.

And yes, the nails/spikes/pieces of metal were in that Bergman production at BAM. Unforgettable -- I knew a couple women at the time who saw the production and they both said that it took Bergman to make Ophelia make sense onstage. And the actress who played it went on to be in FANNY AND ALEXANDER and play Annakin Skywalker's mother in those wretched prequels.
"If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don't have to worry about the answers." Thomas Pynchon, GRAVITY'S RAINBOW "Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away." Philip K. Dick My blog:
Dawn Davenport Profile Photo
Dawn Davenport
I saw Ian McKellan play Salieri in the original Broadway cast of "Amadeus". I was there to see Tim Curry since I was nuts about him, but both of them were standouts (and McKellan was completely new to me.) Jane Seymour was in it as well but I think she was already known by then.

Also as someone else commented in this thread I saw Glenn Close in both Barnum and The Crucifer of Blood.

My mom and her sister have THE best bragging rights though. They saw Picnic on Broadway back in the 50s. Ralph Meeker was the star, but they were intrigued by one of the secondary actors, an unknown who was very handsome with startling blue eyes. They stage doored afterwards to get his autograph. It was Paul Newman.

I was so thrilled when a couple of years ago I saw a postcard for sale of a photograph taken of Paul Newman standing in front of the "Picnic" marquee!!!! I couldn't wait to buy my mom and her sister (my aunt) that postcard as a remembrance of that time!
Spireguy2 Profile Photo
Saw the RSC tour of 'Romeo & Juliet' at the local leisure centre. We were blown away by the young actor playing Romeo. Remembering his delivery of certain lines to this day gives me goosebumps. He's done pretty well since then. Saw him this evening, in fact, playing 'Lincoln'. A true genius.
SonofRobbieJ Profile Photo
Broadway Legend
(Side bar: They're never flowers anymore, are they? In Ingmar Berman's production at BAM, I seem to recall they were nails or spikes of some kind.)

Further side bar: I seem to remember that, in the Fiennes HAMLET, she handed out clumps of her own hair as the flowers. It was effective.
ChairinMain Profile Photo
Leading Actor
I saw Beth Leavel and Mara Davi in the national Tour of 42nd St. Leavel was established by this time, but I don't think she was a "name" until Drowsy Chaperone.

Oh, and I saw Josh Gad in Spelling Bee, does that count?
Princeton Returns Profile Photo
Princeton Returns
Broadway Legend
also dominic cooper in history boys at the national, the guy oozed charisma and stage presence. also matthew rhys in romeo and juliet for the rsc
Fred Casely
When I was in High School I saw the first touring company of Grease with Jeff Conaway (Danny), Judy Kaye (Rizzo), Marilu Henner (Marty), John Travolta (Doody), along with Jerry Zaks and Michael Lembeck. Did not think Travolta stood out.

Around that time, I saw a tent theatre production of No, No, Nanette starring Ruby Keeler. In support, as Tom, David-James (later David) Carroll.

Also, when I saw Bette Midler in concert, her pianist was Barry Manilow.

In the mid-70s I went to see a friend of mine in Two Gentlemen Of Verona at the Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival. The guy opposite her was called Tom Hanks.

In the mid-80s on my first trip to London, Emma Thompson was the female lead in Me & My Girl.

A few years later I saw a 2-man show at the Edinburgh Fringe. I found later that one of the men was Jim Broadbent.

Also at the Fringe, I saw a 19-year-old standup named Dave Chappelle and another guy named Graham Norton.

At the Kennedy Center, I saw Roger Bart as Dickon in The Secret Garden.

When I was in Graduate School at University of Maryland, Joey Sorge and Jason Kravitz were undergrads (not stars, but they are known and commented upon in these boards).
Borstalboy Profile Photo
Broadway Legend
In the college I saw Missi Pyle do the Princess Esmerelda in CAMINO REAL, Cressida in TROILUS AND CRESSIDA, and Squeaky in ASSASSINS.

Our local "edgy" community theater had a sloe-eyed hottie named Katie Walsh who did TOOTH OF CRIME, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (not the musical) and BAAL.
"It's now rather very common to hear people say 'I'm rather offended by that'. As if that gives them certain rights. It's actually nothing more than a whine. It has no meaning, no purpose. It has no reason to be respected as a phrase. 'I am offended by that'. Well, so f**king what?"--Stephen Fry