The British actor Joseph Marcell is still most widely known for his portrayal of Geoffrey the butler in TV’s “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.”
So his starring role in the national tour of the Globe Theatre’s “King Lear,” which played at the Folger Theatre last month and moved from New York to Boston last week, not only shows the versatility of actors saddled with the popularity of a single TV role, but also demonstrates the idea that stars of classic sitcoms might draw some people to Shakespeare who might not ordinarily go.
Hence, a wish list for other sitcom stars who might try on the Bard:
Jaleel White, best known as Steve Urkel in “Family Matters,” may seem an unlikely Brutus in a production of “Julius Caesar,” with his oversized glasses and red suspenders holding up his too short toga. But his response to Caesar’s dying entreaty, “Et tu, Brute?” would bring the house down every time: “Did I do that?”
Matt LeBlanc already does a good job on Showtime’s “Episodes,” poking fun at himself and his Joey Tribbiani character from “Friends.” But he could brighten up a play such as “Hamlet” by adapting some of those same cadences, grabbing the skull of Yorick and saying, “How you doin’?”
If Erin Moran and Scott Baio created a classic sitcom romance in “Joanie Loves Chachi” back in the day, then why couldn’t the stars of the “Happy Days” spinoff be enlisted to portray those other star-crossed lovers, “Romeo and Juliet”? (Well, maybe the fact they’re each about 53 years old). A touring show still might work, and the production would also have enough parts to accommodate the guys who played Bingo and Al.
There are sitcom stars who could play Shakespeare’s most durable character, Falstaff, who popped up in “Henry IV,” Parts 1 and 2, and “The Merry Wives of Windsor.” But Falstaff would give a chance for Jim Belushi to use the scenery-eating skills displayed on eight seasons of “According to Jim” and, maybe, a chance to throw in a little Blues Brother dance in the encore.
The only puppet in the crowd, TV’s once very popular Alf could do a quick, wordless cameo as bear in Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale” (once they figure out how to do the legs-for-a-hand-puppet thing). It’s just a small part, but zipping across the stage as a fuzzy being on his way to do damage to Antigonus is likely to get big applause.
The nurse in “Romeo and Juliet” is one of the play’s most important characters because she serves as a sounding board and confidant for the young Capulet. She’s likely to stand out even more with the famous bray of Fran Drescher in the role. And much like the nurse, Drescher’s most famous role on TV had a similar job description, “The Nanny.”
Jimmie Walker’s best known role was as J.J. Evans in “Good Times,” where his catchphrase could easily obliterate the famous exhortation of one of the minor characters in “Henry IV Part 1.” When Prince Hal sidekick Ned Poins says “Zounds!” he could just as easily say “Dyn-o-mite!” The floppy hat would fit in, too.
Too bad Robert Reed isn’t around to join Florence Henderson for a turn, by the Brady Brunch couple, in “Macbeth.” Even without him, though, Henderson could take charge of the central story as Lady Macbeth, egging her man on to his deed, in the way she did as Lady Brady, conflating “Miiike!” and“Maaac!” in the process.
Along these lines, how about Eve Plumb, from that same beloved sitcom, bringing her Jan Bradyness on the road in a touring company of “The Tempest” where, when attention always seems to turn to Prospero’s daughter, as it once did to her TV sister Marcia, she can exclaim with her pained frustration, “Miranda, Miranda, Miranda!”
It isn’t just the compact size that would make Emmanuel Lewis a swell Puck in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (after all, Mickey Rooney once played the part in the movies). With Gary Coleman gone, the “Webster” star could pick up his colleague’s most famous old line, particularly after somebody’s more ponderous monologue, “Whatchu talkin’ about, Willus Shakespeare?”