Dreamgirls star Amber Riley & 'Glee' stars on stage
There is no denying the mutual love-fest between Glee, Broadway and the West End. The popular Golden Globe and Emmy Award-winning musical television series has championed a plethora of show tunes during its six seasons on the small screen and a number of members of its cast are no strangers to treading the boards themselves either.
From 2009 to 2015, Glee has used the popularity of some of Broadway's biggest names to boost its appeal, showing off their vocal talents and acting chops in various guest roles. It has also created some household names of its own along the way, who have gone on to star on stage on both sides of the Atlantic and have become box office draws due to the show's enormous success. During the casting process for the television series, creator Ryan Murphy actually spent three months in New York, visiting Broadway shows in the hopes of poaching some of its talent away to Los Angeles, resulting in him finding two of the show's biggest stars - Matthew Morrison and Lea Michele - amongst others.
This Autumn, Amber Riley will make her West End debut in the much-anticipated West End premiere of Dreamgirls which begins previews at London's Savoy Theatre on 19th November 2016. This young, formidable lady, better known for her on-screen role as Mercedes Jones, will be taking on the mammoth task of playing Effie White in the musical. This iconic role earned Jennifer Holliday a Tony Award in 1982 for originating the character on Broadway, as well as an Academy Award for Jennifer Hudson in 2007 for the film adaptation.
Whilst we eagerly await Miss Riley's interpretation of Effie, we thought we'd take a closer look at some of her Glee colleagues' stage appearances over the years, so buckle your McKinley High seatbelts, all you Gleeks out there!
Matthew Morrison in South Pacific
Prior to becoming the non-Spanish-speaking Spanish Teacher Will Schuester, Morrison had already graced the boards of the Great White Way in shows such as 'Footloose,' 'The Rocky Horror Picture Show,' 'A Naked Girl on the Appian Way,' 'Hairspray' (as Link Larkin), 'South Pacific' (as Lt. Joseph Cable, U.S.M.C.) and 'The Light in the Piazza' (as Fabrizio Naccarelli), with the latter even earning him a Tony nomination for Best Featured Actor in a Musical in 2005. After the final season of 'Glee' wrapped up, Morrison returned to his Broadway roots to lead the cast of the Broadway premiere of Finding Neverland. He portrayed Peter Pan-creator J.M. Barrie in the Harvey Weinstein production, playing his final performance on 24th January 2016.
Lea Michele in Spring Awakening
Perhaps top billing in Glee goes to Lea Michele aka Rachel Berry. Michele made her Broadway debut in 1995 at the tiny age of 8 years old as Young Cosette in 'Les Misérables' and went on to appear in 'Ragtime' in 1998 and as Shprintze in 'Fiddler on the Roof' in 2004. It was her breakthrough role as Wendla in the Broadway premiere of 'Spring Awakening,' however, which she played from November 2006 through to May 2008, that solidified her as an established artist on Broadway. Rumours of a return to the Great White Way have simmered under the surface for a long time - taking on the role of Fanny Brice in a revival of 'Funny Girl' was even in question - but have yet to come into fruition.
Jane Lynch in Annie
My personal favourite character in Glee - the unrelenting force that is Coach Sue Sylvester - was welcomed to the Great White Way in the Summer of 2013, as Jane Lynch took over the role of Miss Hannigan in the 2012 revival of 'Annie.' Afterwards, Lynch even performed her rendition of "Little Girls" on an episode of Glee as a nod to her Broadway debut.
Darren Criss in How to Succeed...
Darren Criss, who plays the loveable Blaine Anderson (with an unhealthy obsession for hair gel), made his Broadway debut in 2012, assuming the role of J. Pierrepont Finch from "Harry Potter" himself, Daniel Radcliffe, in the 2011 Broadway revival of 'How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.' He went on to become the youngest man ever to play East-German, transgender Rocker Hedwig in 'Hedwig and the Angry Inch' at Broadway's Belasco Theatre in 2015.
Jenna Ushkowitz in Hair
Originally from South Korea, Ushkowitz (aka Tina Cohen-Chang) first appeared on the Great White Way in the 1996 revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein's 'The King and I' and went on to act as a Swing in the same production of 'Spring Awakening' as Lea Michele. During her tenure there, she appeared as Anna, Thea and Martha. In 2014, Ushkowitz also played the role of Jeannie in the Hollywood Bowl production of 'Hair.'
Dianna Agron in McQueen
Still yet to make her Broadway debut, Ms. Agron, who portrayed Quinn Fabray in Glee, made her professional stage debut in London. She took the female lead Dahlia in the premiere of 'McQueen' at the St James Theatre in Summer 2015. The play was a fantasy-based telling of a night spent between fashion designer Alexander McQueen and a mysterious young woman, who had broken into one of his workshops to steal a dress. Agron was unable to reprise her role in the later transfer to the Theatre Royal, Haymarket due to "filming commitments."
Jonathan Groff in Hamilton
Groff plays Jesse St James, who is also revealed as Rachel's husband in the series finale of Glee. He made his Broadway debut in the 2005 production of 'In My Life' and similar to Lea Michele, his breakthrough role came with the 2006 hit 'Spring Awakening.' His performance as Melchior earned him a Tony nomination for Best Actor in a Musical in 2007. He has also graced the London stage, starring alongside Simon Russell Beale in the 2010 West End revival of 'Deathtrap' and more recently in a concert presentation of 'How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying' at the Royal Festival Hall on 19th May 2015. He can currently be seen on Broadway as King George in the smash hit 'Hamilton' with his final performance scheduled for 9th April 2016. He also has a number of off-Broadway credits to his name, including 'Hair,' 'Prayer for My Enemy,' 'The Singing Forest,' 'The Bacchae,' 'The Submission,' and 'A New Brain,' making him a true favourite in the world of theatre.
A special mention also goes to everyone's favourite 'Wicked' alumni, Tony winners Idina Menzel and Kristin Chenoweth, who made guest appearances as Rachel's biological mother Shelby Corcoran and alcoholic songstress April Rhodes, respectively. Kristin's rendition of "Maybe This Time" from 'Cabaret' and Idina's duet with Lea on "I Dreamed A Dream" from 'Les Misérables' still remain a couple of the most stirring musical moments from the television series' six-season history.
So, Amber Riley has a lot to live up to and has perhaps landed the most talked-about stage role over all of her former Glee colleagues. She already worked her magic last December as Addaperle, the Good Witch of the North in NBC's live TV broadcast of "The Wiz!" musical and so our hopes are high that she will indeed nail the role of Effie White in 'Dreamgirls' this Autumn. In the meantime, check out her rendition of the musical's iconic showstopper "And I am Telling You" here: