Musical theatre stars who have crossed the great (TV/theatre) divide…

Janie Dee in Hello, Dolly! at Curve in Leicester. Photo: Catherine Ashmore.
Janie Dee in Hello, Dolly! at Curve in Leicester. Photo: Catherine Ashmore.
Matthew Hemley
Matt is news editor for The Stage, having started as the newspaper’s broadcast reporter. He covers all areas of the industry in his role, but has a particular interest in musical theatre. Matt studied acting at Bretton Hall and presents a monthly theatre news round up on BBC London Radio.
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Musical theatre performers often speak of a snobbery that exists in areas of the industry, which they claim prevents them getting opportunities to cross into other areas – such as straight plays or television. I’ve heard some say that they tend to be pigeonholed – perhaps as jazz-hand body-shimmying types who are incapable of playing anything else.

I understand this concern and there do seem to be some musical performers who are confined to that genre. Perhaps some casting directors, producers and directors are just not capable of seeing their true talent.

But there are exceptions.

This week I spoke to the ridiculously talented Lara Pulver, who started out in musical theatre (she was even nominated for an Olivier for her performance in Parade at the Donmar Warehouse). Now, however, Pulver is busy carving out a name for herself on television – with shows such as Robin Hood under her belt, and the forthcoming Sky drama Fleming.

Pulver told me that she decided to pursue television partly to make a “name” for herself, so that she can continue to get theatre opportunities in the future. She recognises that more and more productions are star-led and that, if she wants to be considered for major roles further down the line, TV can give her the “name” she needs to continue getting the big roles in theatre.

But how has she managed to straddle the mediums where others have failed? Is it, as she says, luck? Possibly. A good agent? Yes.  Sheer determination and ambition, combined with a healthy dollop of undeniable talent? That too, no doubt.

It got me thinking about performers like Pulver who have managed to cross the great divide – and make a name for themselves in more than just one genre, despite their musical theatre heritage.

Here are some people I can think of who seem to do it all and refuse to be pigeonholed…

Hugh Jackman

It’s hard to think of someone who has been less pigeonholed than Jackman. He was in musicals such as Beauty and the Beast and Sunset Boulevard in Australia, before playing Curly in Oklahoma! here at the National Theatre. He has since gone on to make it big in films such as Wolverine.

Raza Jaffrey

I first became aware of Jaffrey when he played the lead in Bombay Dreams, the Andrew Lloyd Webber produced musical written by A R Rahman. Before that he was in Mamma Mia! but he has since gone on to enjoy roles on TV in Spooks, Mistresses and Smash. Musical theatre certainly hasn’t defined him.

Preeya Kalidas

Kalidas, like Jaffrey, is someone who came to the fore being in Bombay Dreams, before landing the role of the narrator in Joseph. She has since gone on to enjoy a television career, including a role in EastEnders.

Janie Dee

There is no one I can think of more who does it all than Janie Dee. One minute she’s singing her way through musicals such as Hello, Dolly!, or her own cabaret shows, and the next she is playing serious in something like Alan Ayckbourn’s Woman in Mind, or Shadowlands. I know she has spoken of her desire to do more television – but she done some. All in all she’s done a good job of avoiding being known for just one thing. And to think her big break came from being in the musical Cabaret.

Imelda Staunton

One minute on TV, the next on stage, Staunton most recently starred opposite Michael Ball as Mrs Lovett in Sweeney Todd. She began her career on the stage – and had many an appearance in musicals at this time – but has still crossed the divide into television.

Anyone else? Feel free to leave your suggestions below...

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