On February 8, the long-running crime drama Law & Order SVU airs its 400th episode. Filming in New York City (long before the Big Apple became a hub for TV), SVU became a staple day job for dozens of stage actors working on and Off-Broadway. From guest appearances by Hamilton’s Daveed Diggs and Anthony Ramos to series regulars like four-time Tony nominee Raúl Esparza, we love seeing our favorites succeed on the small screen. In celebration of the program’s milestone, Broadway stars reflect on their experiences. Dun, dun.
Billy Porter – Season 15, Episode 326
Why you know him: Tony Award winner for Kinky Boots
Who he played on SVU: A reality competition show singing coach accused of molesting his students, but was set up by two girls he dropped from his program.
Memories from Porter: “Mr. Jackie was actually developed for me, and Mariska Hargitay was my champion. She made sure I was taken care of. A real class act. It felt great to be welcomed into the SVU family. I’m truly a fan of the show—Chris Meloni is a long-time friend so I was hooked before it even aired. I love the formula of the show—you always know you’ll be satisfied. The legacy of this show is that it has never been afraid to tackle uncomfortable issues that we face in America head on. I love that, and, as a writer myself, it gives me hope and courage to get to my computer and write something.”
Jefferson Mays – Season 16, Episode 351
Why you know him: Tony nominee for A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder
Who he played on SVU: Recurring role as Medical Examiner Carl Rudnick, who used his position to cover up and frame others for his crimes. He’s eventually discovered to be a cross-dressing serial killer.
Memories from Mays: “Initially I was attracted by the cool and quirky professionalism of Dr. Rudnick, but imagine my giddy joy when showrunner Warren Light took me aside and confided that the production "had plans" for the good doctor. Would I be interested in a ‘sinister trajectory’ for the character? I leapt at the opportunity. It was a hard secret to keep! Although sometimes referred to as a police procedural, I’ve always been struck by the vivid humanity of its characters. It’s been a mainstay in supporting the lives and careers of New York theatre actors for so many years.”
Mary Stuart Masterson – Season 6, Episode 125
Why you know her: Tony nominee for Nine
Who she played on SVU: Recurring role as Dr. Rebecca Hendrix, a Bellevue psychiatrist who frequently butts heads with Benson. In her last appearance (Season 8), she completes a psychiatric evaluation of Benson and Stabler, determining they have an unhealthy emotional dependence on each other.
Memories from Masterson: “I remember laughing a lot because Mariska might as well be Lucille Ball, she is so funny. It is every New York theatre actor’s proud rite of passage to have sailed on the mother ship or the other Dick Wolf vessels. And to have been able to be neither ‘perp’ nor ‘vic’ but someone who not only went to the police academy but also med school and who is not only a practicing Psychiatrist but is the head of Bellevue! That was fun. And I, Rebecca Hendrix, cured Stabler in ten minutes flat. You’re welcome.”
Robert Klein – Season 10, Episode 218
Why you know him: Tony nominee for They’re Playing Our Song
Who he played on SVU: Recurring role as Attorney Dwight Stannich. First appearance was defending a Norma Desmond-esque diva played by Carol Burnett, who’s accused of killing three people, including her husband.
Memories from Robert: “I had friends on the show, which was fun. And once of the beauties of the show was being home. New York is my home, and it’s a New York show, and it was wonderful not to have to travel. Me, the nicest guy in the world, played a villain. I wasn’t very successful as a lawyer. Carol Burnett, she got four life sentences. Eric McCormack, too. He got life, I think. I always thought the show was extremely original. The scripts and the style always had the sense of authenticity, and mature work. I have no doubt that they’re going to be showing it forever. It has a kind of timeless quality. The thing about it is, it’s not just a bunch of crashing cars. There’s seldom any gun play, that sort of thing. Just a lot of good performances.”
Tracy Pollan – Season 1, Episode 10
Why you know her: Starred in Broadway’s Pack of Lies and Jake’s Women
Who she played on SVU: Nominated for an Emmy for her role as a the victim of a serial rapist. She’s devastated when she can’t ID him in a lineup, and the case goes cold. She returns as the same character in S2.
Memories from Pollan: “As soon as I read the script, I was drawn to both the quality of writing and the depth of character. I had never played a woman who had suffered a devastating ordeal and yet was strong enough to fight back. The actors and the crew were extremely generous and welcoming, and I met Mariska [Hargitay] who has become one of my good friends. SVU had an enormous impact on me personally; it is the one single role I am recognized for more than any other. And I was nominated for an Emmy, which remains a highlight of my career. SVU will be remembered 50 years from now alongside classics like Hill Street Blues and the original Law & Order for its resonating humanity.”
Over the course of 400 episodes, dozens more New York stage actors filled the roster of Law & Order SVU characters including Tony winner Daveed Diggs, Tony winner Norbert Leo Butz, six-time Tony winner Audra McDonald, two-time Tony winner Sutton Foster, Tony winner Karen Olivo, and more. Here’s a list of some of the most notable appearances:
Judith Light – Season 3, Episode 61
Why you know her: Two-time Tony winner for The Assembled Parties and Other Desert Cities
Who she played on SVU: Elizabeth Donnelly first appears on the show as an DA bureau chief, supervising ADA’s Alex Cabot (Stephanie March) and Casey Novak (Diane Neal). She eventually becomes a Manhattan judge. In Season 10, she berates a CSU tech for making a paperwork mistake that causes a case dismissal. He poisons her and she nearly dies.
Jane Krakowski – Season 5, Episode 114
Why you know her: Tony nominee for She Loves Me, Tony winner for Nine
Who she played on SVU: A nursing home nurse suspected of killing several patients, including her own mother. She eventually confesses to dozens of murders.
Shirley Jones – Season 5, Episode 98
Why you know her: Most recently on Broadway in the 2001 revival of 42nd Street, Laurey in the film version of Oklahoma!
Who she played on SVU: Plays Attorney Felicity Bradshaw in the fight over whether a pregnant woman who drinks alcohol should be locked up for the baby’s safety.
Marlee Matlin – Season 5, Episode 113
Why you know her: Starred in the 2015 revival of Spring Awakening
Who she played on SVU: Recurring role as Dr. Amy Solwey, an in-vitro fertilization specialist who kills a depressed woman wishing to commit suicide. She becomes friends with Det. Munch (Richard Belzer), who shares her views on assisted suicide.
Carol Burnett – Season 10, Episode 218
Why you know her: Special Tony Award winner, most recently on Broadway in Love Letters
Who she played on SVU: Emmy-nominated for her role as Birdie Sulloway, an aging dancer who glories in her past stardom. She, along with her nephew, comes under suspicion of the death of her husband and three other neighbors.
Roger Bart – S14, Episode 298
Why you know him: Tony winner for You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown, Tony nominee for The Producers
Who he played on SVU: A popular talk show host whose also a serial rapist. He’s finally caught after raping a famous romance novelist.
Laura Benanti – Season 13, Episode 282
Why you know her: Tony winner for Gypsy, Tony nominee for Swing, Into the Woods, Women on the Verge..., She Loves Me
Who she played on SVU: Recurring role as Maria Grazie, the estranged wife of Detective Nick Amaro (Danny Pino). After returning home from a tour in Iraq, their marriage deteriorates and she eventually moves to Washington, D.C. with their young daughter.
Leslie Odom Jr. – Season 15, Episode 322
Why you know him: Tony winner for Hamilton
Who he played on SVU: Recurring role as Reverend Curtis Scott, who frequently butts heads with ADA Barba (Raul Esparza) when he believes a case being stacked against a minority suspect.
Patti LuPone – Season 16, Episode 354
Why you know her: Tony winner for Evita and Gypsy, Tony nominee for The Robber Bridgeroom, Anything Goes, Sweeney Todd, Women on the Verge...
Who she played on SVU: A talent manager who disposes of the body of a young fan to keep her biggest client out of trouble.
Jerry Orbach – Season 1, Episode 3
Why you know him: Tony winner for Promises, Promises, Tony nominee for Guys and Dolls and Chicago
Who he played on SVU: In a crossover episode with “Law & Order,” Detective Lenny Briscoe and the SVU team up to work the case of a teenaged model who eventually dies after being raped and beaten.