Singers and dancers have always been the staple of Broadway, but these days casting agents have begun sending in the clowns -- funny people for legit roles.
The biggest name is Whoopi Goldberg, who took over for Nathan Lane and thoroughly rejuvenated A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum. Granted, Goldberg got her start in her own Broadway solo, but she's also known for her work as an emcee and co-host of HBO's annual "Comic Relief." When she departs Forum July 13, "In Living Color's" David Alan Grier will take over.
Speaking of TV's "In Living Color," fellow cast-member Kim Coles will wrap up her Off-Off-Broadway comedy, Homework at the HERE Theatre, June 28.
Three -- count `em three -- funny people can be found in Hal Prince's Broadway revival of Candide: Andrea Martin, Arte Johnson & Mal Z. Lawrence. Second City TV alumnus Martin appeared in Broadway in My Favorite Year and Off-Broadway in the half-autobiography, half-sketch comedy show, Nude, Nude, Totally Nude. Johnson was a "velly intellesting" bit player on TV's "Laugh In." Lawrence is a borscht belt comic launched to prominence in Catskills On Broadway, featuring him alongside other stand-ups Dick Capri, Marilyn Michaels and Freddie Roman.
Just announced is the news that Triumph Of Love, the highly anticipated Marivaux musical, will put comedienne Elayne Boosler alongside the likes of Betty Buckley and F. Murray Abraham. Helping start the comedy trend was the current Broadway revival of Grease!. The show helped push Rosie O'Donnell from the stand-up circuit to Broadway fame. She repaid the favor when she got her own morning talk show. She books lots of Broadway performers and talks up the theatre every chance she gets. Broadway responded in kind by choosing O'Donnell to host the 1997 Tony Awards -- which got the best ratings in years.
Though Jeff Conaway currently stars as the Grease! deejay, Saturday Night Live veteran Joe Piscopo was featured in the role last year.
The 1996 season saw SNL alum Julia Sweeney bring her own autobiographical solo, God Said `Ha!' to Broadway, and just a few months later, Gilda Radner's life received an exuberant spin in Off Broadway's Bunny Bunny, by her friend and Saturday Night Live writer, Alan Zweibel.
Also Off-Broadway, Beat: A Subway Cop's Comedy, launched real life cop and stand-up comedian John DiResta into the legit life. He's currently working on a TV pilot thanks to the exposure given him by the Kaufman Theatre show's six month run.
The environmental comedies Grandma Sylvia's Funeral and Tony `n' Tina's Wedding offers actors lots of opportunity for improv, with the producers occasionally "Weisslering" the latter with guest stars. Among the funny folk found in T&T have been the real-life "Kramer," upon whom the "Seinfeld" character is based, and Howard Stern Show co hort, "Stuttering" John Melendez.
The everlasting Chicago City Limits and the soon-to-close (and tour) Capitol Steps bring sketch comedy to the New York mix, while the Off-Broadway hit, Late Nite Catechism, is essentially a stand-up comedy routine for a nun -- aka co-author and star Maripat Donovan.
--By David Lefkowitz