A motion picture adaptation of a Broadway musical can succeed with the right actors – providing what they can to give fans of such shows a definitive cinematic treatment. Pulling this off can result in more than just success at the box office. There have been instances in which those very performers have gone on the hunt for Oscar.
With Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway headed for eventual Academy Award nominations for Les Miserables, a win for either would get them into an exclusive musical club. Since the very beginnings of the ceremony in 1927, there have been eight actors who have won Hollywood’s top prize for adaptations of Broadway musicals.
George Chakiris & Rita Moreno (West Side Story) – Best Supporting Actor & Actress, 1961
They played Bernardo and Anita, the Sharks leader and close confidante of Maria (Natalie Wood) – who ultimately falls for one of the leaders of the Sharks’ rival group. Chakiris and Moreno danced and charmed their way to high acclaim, and would secure the first Broadway-adapted Oscar acting wins. For Chakiris’ victory, he defeated The Hustler‘s Jackie Gleason & George C. Scott and Judgment at Nuremberg‘s Montgomery Clift. Moreno would have competition from comeback star Judy Garland (Judgment at Nuremberg) and Lotte Lenya (The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone, better known as the wife of landmark composer Kurt Weill). This would be the only nomination and win for both performers.
Rex Harrison (My Fair Lady) – Best Actor, 1964
The British thespian had originated the role of Professor Henry Higgins on Broadway, starring opposite the legendary Julie Andrews as Eliza Doolittle. Even though Audrey Hepburn would step into the role of Eliza, Harrison would not be denied for George Cukor’s film version of the Lerner and Loewe classic. He would have steep competition against the Becket duo of Richard Burton & Peter O’Toole, Anthony Quinn (Zorba the Greek) and Peter Sellers (Dr. Strangelove), but Harrison defeated them all for his only Oscar win. It is also the first and only Best Actor win for a Broadway musical film.
Barbra Streisand (Funny Girl) – Best Actress, 1968
As Harrison had done, the legendary singer returned to a role she started on Broadway for the Hollywood version. Oscar winner William Wyler took on the life story of actress-comedienne Fanny Brice, with Streisand in the title role. The film would boast two of Streisand’s landmark songs on film, the heartbreaking ballad “People” and the soaring “Don’t Rain on My Parade” (complete with an often-parodied image of her standing on a boat, singing the tune). She would win her only acting Oscar for her performance, albeit in a tie with The Lion in Winter‘s Katharine Hepburn.
Liza Minnelli & Joel Grey (Cabaret) – Best Actress & Supporting Actor, 1972
This musical set in pre-WWII Germany first saw the Broadway stage in 1966, with the famous score written by the duo of John Kander & Fred Ebb. Six years later, multi-talented director Bob Fosse stepped in to direct – three years after helming another Broadway musical adaptation in Sweet Charity. The story followed Sally Bowles (Minnelli) and her life as a performer in the Kit Kat Klub during the rise of the Nazis – with some of the action told by an entertaining Master of Ceremonies (Grey). Both performers would win their respected categories for their work on this film – Minnelli defeated Diana Ross (Lady Sings the Blues) and Cicely Tyson (Sounder), while Grey managed to defeat three actors from The Godfather (including one particular acting icon named Al Pacino).
Catherine Zeta-Jones (Chicago) – Best Supporting Actress, 2002
This Kander-Ebb-Fosse musical about showgirls, murder and media obsession in the 1920s received the big-screen treatment courtesy of fellow choreographer and director Rob Marshall. While Renee Zellweger’s Roxie Hart was getting the attention for her criminal acts, Zeta-Jones’ performer Velma Kelly is determined to keep herself from going to jail – even though she may have committed murders of her own. Zeta-Jones stole the film with her versatile talents, especially on the opener “All That Jazz” and the riotous showstopper “I Can’t Do It Alone.” She would pull off the Best Supporting Actress win, defeating Julianne Moore (The Hours) and even her Chicago co-star Queen Latifah for the honor.
Jennifer Hudson (Dreamgirls) – Best Supporting Actress, 2006
This musical followed the Dreams, a soul-singing trio going through the highs and lows of fame over two decades – with one singer finding herself replaced as the lead, when another member gets involved with their manager. The former American Idol star had a tough legendary act to follow when playing the role of Effie White – original Broadway star Jennifer Holliday rocked the stage, especially on her big solo triumph “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going.” Hudson would prove to be up to the challenge, and delivered her own spine-chilling rendition of the song, which may have sealed her fate on Oscar night. She became the third African-American woman to win the Best Supporting Actress prize.