Broadway-level talent often seems like a singular gift, but there are several performing families that make a strong case for the existence of a Broadway gene. From the Barrymores to the Keenan-Bolgers, we look at eight families that have kept us entertained over multiple generations by counting Broadway as their family business.
One of Broadway’s newest dynasties is the Keenan-Bolger family, hailing from Detroit, MI. The youngest of the siblings, Andrew, got the family started off in the pro-theatre world, appearing on Broadway as a child in Beauty and the Beast and Seussical; he went on to appear in Mary Poppins, Newsies and Tuck Everlasting after college. His oldest sister Celia made her Broadway debut and earned a Tony nomination for her performance in 2005’s The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. She went on to appear in the 2006 revival of Les Misérables, Peter and the Starcatcher and The Glass Menagerie, receiving Tony nods for Starcatcher and Menagerie. The two Broadway favorites also have another sister, Maggie, who hasn’t been on Broadway but performed as a child in national tours of The Will Rogers Follies and The Music Man. She’s now a playwright (From the Inside, Out), a sex educator and teaching artist.
Another Broadway sibling pair are Hunter and Sutton Foster. Not only did they both find success at a young age on Broadway, they began their careers in the same shows; both Sutton and Hunter appeared in the original production of Les Misérables and the 1994 revival of Grease. Sutton made her mark in 2002 when she was a last-minute replacement in the title role of Thoroughly Modern Millie at La Jolla Playhouse. She continued in the role when the show transferred to Broadway, won a 2002 Tony Award for her performance and has been a Broadway star ever since, going on to appear in Little Women, The Drowsy Chaperone, Shrek the Musical, Anything Goes and Violet. Hunter’s breakout performance came with 2001’s Urinetown The Musical, in which he created the role of Bobby Strong. He’s gone on to appear in The Producers, Little Shop of Horrors, Million Dollar Quartet, Hands on a Hardbody and The Bridges of Madison County. He’s married to his Urinetown co-star Jennifer Cody, who has eight Broadway credits to her name, including The Pajama Game, Shrek the Musical, Cats and Seussical. Watch the two perform on Bunheads from when Hunter made a guest appearance on the show.
These days when you hear “Barrymore” you may think Drew, star of such movies as E.T., Charlie’s Angels and Ever After, but Drew is actually the most recent Barrymore to find success as an actor. Drew’s great-grandfather, Maurice Barrymore, acted in London before moving to New York City in 1875. His eldest child was Lionel Barrymore, who appeared on Broadway in many plays before becoming a Hollywood star in 1926. He won an Academy Award in 1931 for A Free Soul and appeared in 15 Dr. Kildare films. His sister Ethel appeared in countless Broadway plays; she opened the theatre named after her in 1928 with a performance in The Kingdom of God. Their brother John Barrymore was a famous stage Hamlet, but also found success on the screen in films like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Dinner at Eight. John’s granddaughter is Drew.
Judy Garland and Family
Sadly, we never got a Broadway acting performance out of film star Judy Garland, but she did appear in four separate Broadway concerts between 1951 and 1967. Since then, her daughter Lorna Luft starred in the original production of Promises, Promises. Though she hasn’t returned to Broadway, she continues to perform in musicals and concerts, including an international tour of Guys and Dolls and the U.K. premiere of Irving Berlin’s White Christmas. Garland’s other daughter, Liza Minnelli, is of course a bonafide Broadway diva. She made her debut in 1965’s Flora, the Red Menace, later appearing in Chicago, The Act, The Rink and Victor/Victoria. Her most recent Broadway performance was the 2008 concert Liza’s at the Palace.
Orthodontist Andrew Arthur Allen and Pulitzer Prize-nominated poet and playwright Vivian Ayers had three daughters in Houston, TX, and all three have gone on to phenomenally exceptional careers. Debbie Allen is probably best known for her work performing in and choreographing the 1982 TV series Fame, but on Broadway she appeared in Purlie, Raisin and Ain’t Misbehavin’ before heading up revivals of West Side Story and Sweet Charity, earning Tony nominations for both. Her sister Phylicia made her Broadway debut under the name Phylicia Ayers-Allen in 1971’s Ain’t Supposed to Die a Natural Death. She went on to appear in the original companies of The Wiz and Dreamgirls before marrying Ahmad Rashād and changing her name to Phylicia Rashad. After her Broadway career, she became Clair Huxtable on the long-running sitcom The Cosby Show. After her success on television she returned to the stage, appearing in revivals of A Raisin in the Sun (for which she won a 2004 Tony Award), Gem of the Ocean, Cymbeline and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, the latter of which was directed by sister Debbie. Debbie’s daughter Vivian Nixon has appeared on Broadway in Hot Feet, Memphis and Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, while Phylicia’s daughter Condola Rashad has appeared in Stick Fly, The Trip to Bountiful and Romeo and Juliet. Most recently, Condola starred on TV in Showtime’s Billions.
The Booth family is both famous and infamous. Junius Brutus Booth came to the United States in 1821 after starting an acting career in London. He toured the country performing Shakespeare for gold rush miners. His son Edwin Booth followed in his father’s footsteps and became the leading Shakespearean actor of his day. He was once a partial owner of Broadway’s Winter Garden Theatre and is the namesake to the Booth Theatre a few blocks away. Edwin also founded The Players, a New York City actors’ club which is still operational. But it is Junius’ other son who is most remembered today: John Wilkes Booth. John Wilkes was an actor like his father and brother, though he never achieved the level of success that they enjoyed. He immortalized his name in 1865 when he assassinated President Abraham Lincoln in Washington, D.C.
Rodgers and Hammerstein is basically synonymous with the golden age of Broadway; from Oklahoma! to Carousel, South Pacific and The Sound of Music, the songs of composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II remain some of the most beloved ever written for the stage. Rodgers’ daughter, Mary Rodgers, followed in her father’s footsteps and became a composer as well. She composed the score to 1959’s Once Upon a Mattress, earning a Tony nomination for her work and 1963’s Hot Spot. Her son Adam Guettel wrote music and lyrics to the 1996 Off-Broadway musical Floyd Collins and made his Broadway debut with the score to The Light in the Piazza, earning 2005 Tony Awards for his score and orchestrations.
Chuck Cooper began his long Broadway career creating the role of Brother Boxer in the short-lived Broadway Musical Amen Corner in 1983. He’s gone on to appear in over 10 Broadway shows, including Rumors; Passion; Chicago; Caroline, or Change; Act One; and Amazing Grace. He won a Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in 1997 for his performance as Memphis in The Life. His daughter Lilli made her Broadway debut creating the role of Martha in Spring Awakening. She’s gone on to standby for Elphaba in Wicked, and she’s currently starring as Sandy Cheeks in the new Broadway-bound The Spongebob Musical. Lilli’s brother Eddie is also a performer, and while he hasn’t made his Broadway debut quite yet, he made quite a splash playing Audrey II in the Encores! Off-Center production of Little Shop of Horrors last summer. He’s slated to return to the series later this month in God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater. Lilli and Eddie’s brother Alex is a musician. They call themselves The Cooper Clan (watch highlights from their show above!).