Musicals Blog

Kevin Kline - From Shakespeare to Gilbert and Sullivan

by Claire J Rottenberg

Although most movie goers probably know Kevin Kline as a dramatic film actor, he is primarily a stage actor, with his early starts in Shakespeare, classical drama and musicals. Kline's career on Broadway began in 1973 and he did not appear in a film until 1982. Since then, Kline has had successful careers both on Broadway and in films.

Kline's professional training started with the piano when he majored in music at Indiana University. However, after trying his hand at acting, he soon switched his focus to drama. After graduating from Indiana University, Kline attended the well-known Juilliard School of Drama in New York. Not long afterwards, Kline, along with fellow Juilliard graduates Patti LuPone and David Ogden Stiers, started the City Center Acting Company, a repertory company that performed classical plays, Shakespeare and, occasionally, musicals. They toured the US and performed on Broadway in the early to mid-1970s.

In 1978, Kline was cast in the musical "On the Twentieth Century" in a role that earned him his first Tony award for Best Featured Actor in a Musical. His next Tony came three years later for his Best Actor in a Musical performance in Gilbert and Sullivan's " The Pirates of Penzance," a role he recreated in the filmed version in 1983. Although most of Kline's stage work has been primarily in classical plays, both of his Tony awards came as a result of his parts in musicals. His third nomination, however, came in 2004 for his performance in Shakespeare's "Henry IV."

Kline's first film role was in "Sophie's Choice" in 1982. This was followed in 1983 by "The Pirates of Penzance" and the successful "The Big Chill." Five years later, Kline appeared in the only film for which he won an Academy Award - he won the award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in "A Fish Called Wanda."

Kline has had a successful film career that has lasted over 27 years and through more than 30 feature films. He did not, however, leave theater behind, as many other stars have done. Since his first film role in 1982, Kline has appeared in six Broadway plays, mostly revivals of classic plays with limited runs. His last performance on Broadway was in "Cyrano de Bergerac" in January, 2008. A filmed version was also released in 2008.