From the Bay to Broadway: Broadway shows that started in Berkeley

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The word “Berkeley” may be associated with a comical frequency of protests, paralyzing amounts of stress, and hyperliberal citizens. However, in the theater world, Berkeley is one of the better-known launching points for theatrical productions trying to make it to the mecca of theater — Broadway.

The Berkeley Repertory Theatre, located in the heart of Downtown Berkeley, has seen many productions make it to the Big Apple — most recently, Heidi Schreck’s “What the Constitution Means to Me.” Premiering in March at Broadway’s Hayes Theater to critical acclaim, Schreck’s poignant autobiographical introspective considers how her relationship with the U.S. Constitution has changed as she has grown up. Currently nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and multiple Tonys, including best play, “What the Constitution Means to Me” is only one of many Berkeley Rep productions to gain further success in the theater world after its run in the Bay Area.

Such feats are only proven more impressive by the fact that the theater world is so competitive. To celebrate the success of “What the Constitution Means to Me,” let us take a look at other famous — and infamous — shows that have made the journey from coast to coast.

“American Idiot”

Ten years ago, before Johnny, Will, and Tunny were singing Green Day’s greatest among Sondheim and Webber, the trio got its angsty start at the Berkeley Rep. Centered around the three men’s disillusioning trials and tribulations of becoming adults, the musical was such a smash hit that its run was extended twice, and it became the theater’s top-grossing production at the time.

After its record-shattering success in Berkeley, the rock musical immediately transferred straight to Broadway, where it won two Tonys and a Grammy for best musical show album. During part of its run, Billie Joe Armstrong himself played drug dealer St. Jimmy. Although the show is now closed on Broadway, productions of “American Idiot” have popped up everywhere around the world — from Rio de Janeiro to the West End.

“Amélie”

Although there are mixed answers as to whether the show was a definite success or not, one of the better-known productions to recently come out of the Berkeley Rep was the romantic comedy musical “Amélie.” Based on Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s 2001 cult film, the whimsical musical had its world premiere in Berkeley in 2015. Headed by “Les Misérables” star and Broadway darling Samantha Barks, the show opened in Berkeley to rave reviews — so much so that its original run was extended.

After a tryout in Los Angeles, the show transferred to Broadway in 2017, where “Hamilton” alumna Phillipa Soo took over the titular role. On Broadway, “Amélie” was not as well-received as it was in Berkeley, with critics giving the show lukewarm reviews. Because of the tepid response, the show closed only a few months after its opening. Nonetheless, it has recently had limited runs in Japan, Germany and Finland and a tour in the UK.

“Wishful Drinking”

Before the late Carrie Fisher graced the big screen again as Princess Leia in “The Force Awakens,” she starred in a one-woman show adapted from her best-selling tell-all memoir of the same name. Humorously recounting her many misadventures in Hollywood and delving into her long-term battle with substance abuse, Fisher’s solo play premiered at the Berkeley Rep in 2008.

After a successful run in Berkeley, the show toured around various cities before opening on Broadway for a limited run a year and a half later. “Wishful Drinking” was so well-received that HBO released a documentary on the show almost a year after its limited run had ended.

A staple in the Berkeley and theater communities since 1968, Berkeley Repertory Theatre has consistently put out theatrical productions that have made its way to the East Coast. And with the recent Tony nominations for “What the Constitution Means to Me,” the local theater shows no signs of stopping.

Contact Julie Lim at [email protected].