by Mo Brady
It’s a well-known theatre adage that today’s Broadway ensembles employ tomorrow’s Broadway stars. Although it’s too soon to know which newsies or American revolutionaries will be tomorrow’s leading ladies and men, we can look back decades and see which Broadway ensembles featured the largest numbers of future theatre stars. Here are three original Broadway casts that featured a number of yet-to-be famous actors in their ensembles.
The Who’s TOMMY (1993)
Among the ensemblists in The Who's TOMMY were a couple of leading ladies in the making. Sherie Rene Scott made her Broadway debut as Act II standout Sally Simpson before originating roles like Amneris in Aida and Ursula in The Little Mermaid. Alice Ripley was in the ensemble and covered the role of Mrs. Walker before originating leading roles in Side Show, Sunset Boulevard and her Tony-winning take in Next to Normal.
Christian Hoff, a Tony Award winner for Jersey Boys, made his Broadway debut in the ensemble as one of the featured soloists in “Pinball Wizard” among other specialities. Other leading men who graced the show's original ensemble before making it big on Broadway include future Phantom of the Opera Norm Lewis and longtime Rent cast member (guest of The Ensemblist podcast) Michael McElroy.
Thoroughly Modern Millie (2002)
Two of Broadway’s most in-demand creators graced the ensemble of this beloved theatre hit. School of Rock and Disaster! choreographer JoAnn M. Hunter was once one of Broadway’s most in-demand hoofers in shows like Steel Pier and Kiss Me, Kate. (She is also credited as the original dance captain for Spring Awakening, a show she never performed in - you bet I wanna hear the story on THAT.)
The Millie ensemble also featured famed director/choreographer Casey Nicholaw, who now holds the record for directing the most shows playing concurrently on Broadway (Four: The Book of Mormon, Aladdin, Something Rotten! and Tuck Everlasting).
In addition to Broadway creators, the original ensemble of Millie included 2017 Tony Award nominee for Hello, Dolly! Kate Baldwin, Something Rotten! leading lady Catherine Brunell and Holiday Inn standout (and Chita Rivera Award winner) Megan Sikora.
Of course, anyone who’s gone down a Hairspray YouTube spiral knows that the LOL-inducing Jackie Hoffman made her Broadway debut originating the role of Penny Pingleton and other ensemble features. But among the nicest kids in Baltimore included future Elphaba and recording artist Shoshana Bean and current School of Rock principal Jenn Gambatese.
Among of the show’s original swings was Emmy Award-winning choreographer Josh Bergasse. Today, he is one of Broadway’s most sought after choreographers, creating the musical staging for On The Town, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and off-Broadway’s Sweet Charity.