It happens all the time on Broadway: the actor who originates a role leaves the production, and another one steps in to replace him or her. Usually, said replacement doesn’t get much buzz. But with the surge of celebrity-lead productions these days, celebrity replacements are becoming more of a regular thing. And can often lead to longer runs (See: Martin Short stepping in for Nathan Lane in “It’s Only a Play”).
Let’s see how three of them — Anna Chlumsky, Richard Thomas and Emma Stone — are are doing:
Anna Chlumsky and Richard Thomas, “You Can’t Take It With You”
On “Veep,” Anna Chlumsky plays the Vice President’s long-suffering Chief of Staff Amy Brookheimer — a quick-talking, foul-mouthed problem-solver, constantly forced to throw herself under the bus to save the day.
Chlumsky is showing a different side in her Broadway debut, stepping in to the role of Alice Sycamore in the hit revival of Kaufman and Hart’s “You Can’t Take It With You.” She’s lost the sarcasm and upped the level of stress, as Alice tries (and fails) to conceal her unconventional, wacky family from her straight-laced, soon-to-be in-laws (Byron Jennings and Johanna Day, perfectly paired and perfectly square).
On the surface, Alice appears to be the only normal member in a family of playwrights, painters, ballet dancers, musicians and firework-makers. But the play doesn’t really work if there isn’t a little bit of crazy inside Alice, too. After all, that carefree attitude might just be genetic.
Luckily, director Scott Ellis gets that, and allows Chlumsky to explore Alice’s manic side. As the night unravels, so too does Alice. Chlumsky gets goofy and frantic, finding physically comic moments that Rose Byrne, who originated Alice in this production, never had. Moreover, Chlumsky’s natural chemistry with Fran Kranz, who plays Alice’s fiance Kirby, brings a warmth and sweetness to Alice that you can’t help but fall for.
Chlumsky isn’t the only addition to the “You Can’t Take It With You” family. Emmy-winner Richard Thomas (“The Waltons”), last on Broadway in 2012’s “An Enemy of the People,” also has joined the cast as Paul Sycamore, Alice’s inventor father. It’s harder for Thomas to stand out among the chaos of the Sycamores, and he appears far more restrained than Mark Linn-Baker was in the role before him. But he still captures Paul’s childlike enthusiasm to get the character’s biggest laughs. John-Boy would be proud.
“You Can’t Take It With You,” through Feb. 22 at the Longacre Theatre, 220 W. 48th St. Tickets: $37-$152. Call Telecharge, 212-239-6200.
Emma Stone, “Cabaret”
When Roundabout Theatre Company originally planned to remount Sam Mendes and Rob Marshall’s 1998 revival of “Cabaret,” they hoped Oscar-nominated actress Emma Stone would be their Sally Bowles. Scheduling conflicts got in the way (damn you, Spider-Man), and the part instead went to another Oscar-nominee: Michelle Williams.
Williams gave a nuanced and heartbreaking portrayal of Bowles. Fragile and afraid, she played Bowles like a wannabe star with little talent and a big personality who prostituted herself to the mainstage of the Kit Kat Club. Like Roxie Heart in “Chicago,” Williams’ Bowles got wrapped up in all that jazz and just couldn’t escape.
Stone plays the part very differently, and in turn, gives the show a whole new energy. Her Bowles is not nearly as breakable. But in turn, she’s not nearly as lost. This isn’t a scared little girl, begging to be rescued. This is a strong young woman, who feels in control of her actions even when there’s no control to be had. In Stone’s hands, Bowles’ manic behavior in the book scenes come off as an adaptable woman who knows how to survive.
She can sing, too, and dance just as well — both on display in her energetic opening number “Don’t Tell Mama” and the commanding “Mein Herr.” Stone’s voice is sweet and full, with the actress’ signature husky tone all but vanished. She turns “Maybe This Time” into a tender ballad, reminiscent of Lana Del Rey. With Stone’s talent, you get the feeling that if the circumstances were right, this Sally Bowles actually could have been a star.
That makes her take on the title number “Cabaret” all the more heartbreaking. Because she’s not just giving up her chance at a happy life with Cliff (Bill Heck) — she’s giving up her chance at a successful life on the stage. Here’s hoping Stone herself doesn’t follow suit — this is one performer Broadway needs to see more of.
Emma Stone is in “Cabaret” through Feb. 15. The production closes March 29 at Studio 54, 254 W. 54nd St. Tickets: $47-$162. Call 212-719-1300 or visit www.roundabouttheatre.org for tickets.