Thursday, April 26, 2007

Casting a Soap Net

Soap opera casting directors are increasingly turning to theater stars including Jonathan Groff, Matt Cavenaugh, and Brooks Ashmanskas to spice up their shows.

"The talent pool in New York City is unrivaled," says All My Children's Emmy Award-winning casting director Judy Blye Wilson. "Theater actors are very well trained, and a well-trained actor can adjust to any medium." Indeed, AMC fans have seen such Broadway favorites as Becky Ann Baker, Michael Mulheren, Gregory Jbara, Michelle Federer, Kelli O'Hara, Erin Dilly, and Tony Award winner Christian Hoff show up briefly on the 37-year-old soap.

That's one reason you might see Mary Clay Boland, casting director of CBS' As the World Turns, sitting next to you some night at a Broadway show. Boland, who has done casting for prime time television shows including The Sopranos, says she is overjoyed to find so much talent in the New York theater world. "I go to shows at least once or twice a week. As a soap casting director, it's a gold mine for me," she says.

Two well-known theater actors, Matthew Morrison and Matt Cavenaugh, recently played the short-term role of ATWT's Adam Hughes, who ended up buried alive by his girlfriend. (Cavenaugh, who had previously appeared in a significant role on One Life to Live, replaced Morrison after he had to leave to do a workshop of a new musical.) Boland says daytime soap roles offer some significant advantages to New York theater actors, even ones like Cavenaugh who has a steady nighttime job in Grey Gardens. "If they have a booming theater career, then they'll want to do soaps for the camera experience," she notes. "And if they're older and the offers for leads aren't coming in, soaps afford the kind of income you can raise a family on."

Indeed, Cavenaugh's recent double-duty stint was nothing new. In 1973, the late Ruth Warrick shuttled between playing a starring role in the Broadway musical Irene and the key role of matriarch Phoebe Tyler on All My Children, while the late Henderson Forsyth and Emmy winner Larry Bryggman spent virtually their entire soap careers doing both As The World Turns and Broadway shows.

More recently, Tonya Pinkins starred in the title role of Broadway's Caroline, or Change while appearing in a regular rle as AMC's hot-shot defense attorney Livia Frye, a role she has played off and on for over a decade. "She has incredible stamina, and stamina is the key," says Wilson of the Tony-winning actress.

Pinkins, who is now back on Broadway in August Wilson's Radio Golf, is shooting new scenes for AMC next week. "I just love being on that show; we have so much fun," she says. "I started watching it when I was seven years old, and it's such a honor to be part of that cast."

Perhaps the biggest hit of the soap year was scored by AMC when they cast former Tony nominee Jeffrey Carlson as Zarf/Zoe, a pre-op transsexual English rock star who decided to get a sex change operation. However, the character is being written off this week and Carlson is heading to Washington D.C. to play Hamlet. "Jeffrey really got the chance to contribute something unique to soaps," says Wilson. "And I know he walked away feeling very good about it."

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