When Muhammad Ali passed away on June 3rd, there was a flood of biographical information spread through articles, quotes, and social media. One thing that surprised most people was that Ali had a short career on Broadway. Yes, the greatest boxer ever had a Broadway career and most people either forgot about it or just never knew. You’d be surprised how many household name actors and actresses got their start in theater or debut in theater after they’ve established an acting career.
In that spirit, we’ve put together a list of celebrities in theater who you may not have known performed theater.
After Ali was stripped of his boxing title for refusing the be drafted into the Vietnam war, the boxing superstar joined the cast of the musical Buck White on Broadway in 1969. Ali played a character who was appealing a prison sentence for refusing to be drafted into the military, following the course of his own life. He even sang in just about every song in the musical alongside actors like Ted Ross and Donald Sutherland.
Applegate established her career in film and television during the 1990’s and early 2000’s with roles in films like The Sweetest Thing and Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy and in television with the sitcom Jesse and guest roles on Friends. She debuted on Broadway in 2004 as Charity Hope Valentine in Sweet Charity. Applegate earned a Tony nomination of Best Actress in a Musical for her role.
Before Alexander got into television he was a Broadway actor. He appeared in Merrily We Roll Along, Broadway Bound, and even won a Tony award for Best Leading Actor in a Musical for his role in Jerome Robbins’ Broadway in 1989. It wasn’t until later, in 1989, that he was cast as George Costanza in “Seinfeld.”
Before he became a teen heartthrob for 1989’s film Heathers, Christian Slater performed with Dick Van Dyke in 1980’s The Music Man. Slater went on the perform in other Broadway shows like Macbeth and The Glass Menagerie and the West End’s One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. Slater made his first big screen debut in 1985.
Most people remember Ashlee Simpson for her infamous Saturday Night Live lip sync disaster. But Simpson was very successful on Broadway. In 2006 Simpson played Roxie in Chicago so well that she was cast in the same role for the same show in Los Angeles, which was directed by Brooke Shields.
Before appearing in Pulp Fiction and The Deer Hunter, Christopher Walken was a theater actor. Walken dropped out of college when he was 18 to star in Best Foot Forward with a then 16-year-old Liza Minnelli. Since then, Walken has starred on Broadway throughout his career, most recently in 2010.
Carly Rae Jepsen
Jepsen is best known for her hit 2011 hit “Call Me Maybe” which is probably going to be stuck in your head for the rest of the day. While most people think of Jepsen as a pop star she actually had a career on Broadway. Jepsen starred as Cinderella in 2014. Her performance did not earn her the best reviews but she was a Broadway star however you look at it.
Morgan Freeman’s film career didn’t take off until the late 1980’s. Before then he had a successful run in theater. Freeman debuted on Broadway with Cab Calloway in Hello, Dolly!. Freeman received several Obie awards in the 80’s, even one for Driving Miss Daisy which would be adapted for screen in 1989. Learn more about Freeman’s acting career, achievements, and – that’s right – his iconic beard by clicking here.
Before Griffith starred as Andy Taylor in “The Andy Griffith Show” he was giving an award winning performance as Destry in 1959’s Destry Rides Again. Griffith was nominated for a Tony of Best Actor in a Musical for his role.
Most people think of Will Ferrell for his roles in films like Stepbrothers and Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby. In 2009 Ferrell took one of his Saturday Night Live skits and turned it into Broadway comedy about George W. Bush. You’re Welcome America was a hit and was not only nominated for a Tony award – Best Special Theatrical Event – but also broke records at the Cort Theater where it played.
Before John Goodman was playing Dan Conner in Roseanne or Roger in The Big Lebowski he was Pap Finn in 1985’s Big River. Goodman’s performance earned him award nominations and a spot on the original Broadway cast recording for the show.
You may know Lindsay Lohan for her early performances like 1998’s The Parent Trap or some of her popular films from the 2000’s like Freaky Friday and Mean Girls. But after her off screen career interruptions she came back to acting in 2014 in the West End revival of David Mamet’s Speed-The-Plow.
What other stars have a theater career other people don’t know about? Do you have a celebrity theater fun fact that we would all love to know about? Any shows, plays or musicals that we should’ve mentioned? Comment and let us know, we might even have it for you to watch online today!