My feelings about this type casting in comic bit parts are uncertain. Yes, I've enjoyed playing all these parts and yes, I seem to do comedy well and I'm grateful for the parts I've been given yet I often want to strive for something more. I want to play the lovelorn damsel or the tragic heroine. I ant to play Swallow in Whistle Down the Wind and Queenie in The Wild Party. Everybody tells me to wait until I'm older except I worry that I'll go straight from young comedy player to aged character actor just because I'm not pretty enough or tall enough.
So I thought we'd take a look at type casting on Broadway and can do this with just one family: the Fosters. In 2002, Sutton and Hunter Foster found themselves vying for Tony awards for best musical for Thoroughly Modern Millie and Urinetown respectively. Add in Hunter's wife Jen Cody and Sutton's ex Christian Borle and we have ourselves an interesting comparison of succumbing to and defying the type casting curse.
|The least childlike picture of Jen Cody I could find, plus who can resist Jerry Mitchell?|
We start with the situation closest to my own. Jen Cody is a well known yet diminutive figure in the world of the Broadway gypsy. A string of featured roles show that she has got the talent but has never broken out of Broadway bit parts and regional leads. Fair enough, those bit parts have been pretty good- Becky Two Shoes and (later) Little Sally in Urinetown, Cha-Cha in Grease and Mae in The Wild Party to name but a few. Are character actors really ever satisfied ? Do they just readily accept their fate or do they yearn for something more?
|Aww! Christian Borle as Emmett.|
Christian Borle, with his slightly awkward looking face and dorkish charm looked to be heading down the path of the character actor, having played a myriad of comedy roles in Spamalot. Then came along Legally Blonde and his luck changed. Emmett was never intended to be a perfect looking guy- we had Warner for that. But he did have to have a warmth and vulnerability about him; which Borle. Things looked great for Christian- a popular new musical and a popular new girlfriend in Laura Bell Bundy, but will he ever shake off the type casting curse? I don't think so. Since Legally Blonde closed, Borle has become the umpteenth replacement for Bert in Mary Poppins. A fine way to earn a living- yes, but the way to pursue a career as a leading man? No.
|Mmm...Hunter Foster.... This is Kiss of The Spiderwoman peeps.|
Hunter Foster is a lucky sod in that he has never really been typecast. Starting out as a 'bit of a dancer', performing in Cats and Grease, he found great success in Urinetown as the eponymous hero Bobby Strong. With his unconventionally boyish good looks, his portrayal of Bobby was nominated for a Tony (his sister won, he did not). Hunter has become one of those actors where every time you think to yourself "I wonder when Hunter Foster is coming back to Broadway, I haven't heard anything of him for ages", he is suddenly cast in a new show. What is really refreshing is that he has never stuck to one kind of role, flitting from nerdy lead in Little Shop of Horrors to manager of rock and roll bands in Million Dollar Quintet. In the same way that Stephen Sondheim has never stuck to genre (as previously mentioned), neither has Hunter Foster. His repertoire spans from Leo Bloom in commercial smash hit "The Producers" to Dr Frankenstein in the morbid Off-Broadway musical Frankenstein.
|Show off! No literally, that's the name of the song.|
By far the most successful of the Foster clan is Sutton, picked out of obscurity in a real life 42nd Street situation, Foster took over form Erin Davie as the title role in Thoroughly Modern Millie. This garnered her first of four (I believe) Tony nominations and her only win. Foster has used her type casting as bright young ingenues to win lead roles in show after show. She was in the Drowsy Chaperone, Young Frankenstein, Shrek and soon a revival of Anything Goes- all taking advantage of her youth and innocence. But Sutton is starting to get older and is still appearing in primarily light, fun, dancey shows. Although she is starting to buck the trend, soon appearing in an off-Broadway play with Zach Braff. Which way her career will go after Anything Goes is anyone's guess.
It will be interesting to see where the Foster family will be in 10 years time. Hunter appears to be favouring roles that will keep him on Broadway for some time- choosing roles that suit him now and not 10 years ago. I fear that Christian Borle may just fall away from the Broadway limelight, he does seem to be getting tired. I would love for Jen Cody to break out but I think she is too well known as a Gypsy and a character actress for this to ever happen. Whilst her ability to play children will fade with age, her utility as a comedienne and a dancer will allow her to continue working even if she has to accept the stereotype. Looking at other ingenues who have continued to work, Sutton should have longevity- delving into the world of glamorous older lady with a belt, in years to come.
As for me, I guess I'll just have to accept playing teenagers and young, innocent girls until I get too old. I'll have to get my dramatic kicks through other means (or learn to become more patient).