12 Celebs Who Were Broadway Stars Before TV/Film Careers

Center Theatre Group / Joan Marcus

These stars hit the stage before they made their acting debuts on the small and big screen.

Crystal Tate May, 03, 2017

Many of today’s most notable actors and actresses actually began their careers on Broadway before becoming big stars on television and film. From legendary stars to one of our favorite leading actresses on Shonda Rhimes’ Thursday night lineup on ABC, here’s a list of twelve stars who earned their acting chops on Broadway. 

Take one guess which two sisters made the list!

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Viola Davis is well known as Annalise Keating on How to Get Away with Murder, and became the first Black woman to win an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama for the role in 2015. But Davis got her start on Broadway in August Wilson’s Seven Guitars in 1996 after graduating from Julliard School in 1993.

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ESSENCE’s April cover star Renée Elise Goldsberry just played the lead in the Oprah Winfrey-produced HBO film The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, but the Tony Award-winning Hamilton actress got her start in Broadway’s Rent alongside Diggs.

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Debbie Allen, who plays Dr. Catherine Avery on Grey’s Anatomy, is a multi-talented actress, dancer and choreographer. She made her debut in Broadway musical Purlie in 1970, and even directed the 2008 all-Black Broadway production of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

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Debbie Allen’s older sister Phylicia Rashad also started her acting career on Broadway. Rashad, most known as Clair Huxtable on The Cosby Show, was an understudy for Deena Jones (played by Sheryl Lee Ralph) in Dreamgirls in 1981, and became the first Black actress to win a Tony Award for A Raisin in the Sun in 2004.

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In 1994, Taye Diggs started his acting career in Broadway’s Carousel and then played landlord Benny in the Tony Award-winning Rent in 1996, where he met his future wife (now ex) Idina Menzel. Soon after, Diggs made his film debut in How Stella Got Her Groove Back in 1998.

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The legendary actor portrayed the activist in the 1982 miniseries Freedom to Speak.

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Audra McDonald, who got her start in musical The Secret Garden in 1991, already won three Tony Awards for her Broadway performances by age 28. Over the years, she’s appeared in numerous films and TV shows including the now-canceled Grey’s Anatomy spinoff Private Practice

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The actor and narrator of all your favorite things was born June 1, 1937. 

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Power’s latest star Anika Noni Rose is now a popular TV and film star, but Rose began her acting career on Broadway. She made her debut in Footloose in 1998 just three months after moving to New York City with no job.

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Tony-nominated actress Condola Rashad followed in her mother Phylicia Rashad’s footsteps and started her acting career in off-Broadway play Ruined in 2009. Rashad then went on to guest star in shows like The Good Wife, and now stars as assistant U.S. attorney Kate Sacker in Showtime’s Billions.

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We became familiar with Jackée Harry as Sandra Clark on 227 and as Lisa Landry (Tia Mowry’s mom) on Sister, Sister, but the actress made her Broadway debut in A Broadway Musical in 1978. Harry starred in numerous Broadway productions throughout the ‘80s before making her acting debut in TV.

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Sidney Poitier broke the ceiling for Blacks in Hollywood when he became the first Black actor to win an Oscar for Best Actor in Lilies of the Field in 1964. Before his achievements in film, Poitier made his acting debut in Broadway’s Lysistrata in 1946.