ASK PLAYBILL.COM: A Question About an Actor's Decision Between Broadway and the Road
By Robert Simonson
What thoughts do actors juggle when considering taking a job in a national tour? You asked, we sought the answers.
Ask Playbill.com answers your (and sometimes our own) theatre-related questions. To ask a question, email AskPlaybill@Playbill.com. Please specify how you would like your name displayed and please include the city in which you live.
When facing the prospect of work in a touring company of a Broadway show, do actors readily agree to travel or do they prefer to stay back in New York and look for other opportunities on Broadway itself? — Shruti Sharma, India
The decision of whether or not to go on the road with a show is a career question nearly as old as Broadway. During the mid-20th-century golden age of Broadway, it was fairly common for a big star to eventually tour the nation with their latest hit. Marquee names like Mary Marin, Ethel Merman and Carol Channing routinely circled the United States, playing town after town.
Nowadays, the road has shrunk, and the likelihood that the star of the Broadway production of a play or musical will appear in that title in Milwaukee and Cleveland has shrunk along with it. Some, like Alice Ripley, who won a Tony Award for her performance in Next to Normal, still take the trek. But usually a road show is peopled with actors who either were not in the Broadway production, or played lesser roles and graduated to leads in the road show.
Of course, every case is different, depending on the show, the actor, and the actor's schedule, career and financial ambitions, and family situation, plus many other factors. (In general, unless you're in a blockbuster, the average actor will make less money on the road than in a Broadway company.)
Actor Zachary James played the part of Lurch in the Broadway production of The Addams Family. Later, he opted to play the same role late in the national tour of the musical.
"When you've been in a Broadway show in NYC and it hits the road for a tour there are a lot of things that come into play with casting," James said by email. "The biggest factor is if the show is staying open in NYC. If the show closes, you might notice some of the actors from the Broadway company joining the road company. If the show remains running in NYC it is more common that the casting director and producers would cast a completely separate company to travel the show.
"The cool thing is," he continued, "once you know a show and have a good deal of experience performing a position in that show, producers will often call to ask you to fill in if they are need of someone to do the part you know or a part you could easily learn in a touring company. A lot of my buddies from South Pacific ended up doing some time on the road show because they enjoyed doing the show and could easily be integrated when positions became available.
"This past fall I was called to fill in as Lurch in The Addams Family tour because the fella playing Lurch, Tom Corbeill, had to step away to do a Barber of Seville out west for three weeks. I was more than happy to fill in as it was a fun opportunity to do the show again."
Actor Kyle Barisich has gone back and forth a couple times between the Broadway and road productions of The Phantom of the Opera. He started in the New York ensemble as a swing. He was then eventually asked to go on the road, first in the ensemble and then separately as Raoul. Today, he plays Raoul on Broadway.
Barisich saw advantages to both jobs. "I'd never been in a Broadway show and I'd never been in a national tour, so with both those offers, things were looking good for me."
He said that many actors worry that, if they take a touring job, they might lose out on some unseen future opportunity in New York. "A lot of actors get caught up in worrying they're missing opportunities. But you can go crazy thinking like that and end up doing nothing." In his case, taking the road job created an opportunity, as playing Raoul on the road led to him getting considered for the same role in the Broadway production.
"I know it got me a shot. It got me into the room. But I always had to audition every time. It was never handed to me."
Like Barisich, James can see the advantages of both sorts of gig. "There is something to be said about being in New York to take advantage of the many opportunities that arise in theatre, TV, film, etc.," he said. "There's also something nice about going to your own home at the end of the day rather than a hotel. Touring also has its appeal, as you get to see the country, sometimes the world and also save a bit more money since expenses on the road are minimal. But the best thing of all is to have a job doing something you love to do, no matter where it is."
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