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Abigail Breslin takes on Oscar-winning role in Broadway revival of 'The Miracle Worker'

October 28, 2009 |  2:00 pm

Oscar nominee Abigail Breslin ("Little Miss Sunshine") will make her Broadway debut next March in the first rialto revival of 1960 best play winner "The Miracle Worker." Breslin will play Helen Keller while Tony nominee Alison Pill ("The Lieutenant of Inishmore") takes on the role of her inspirational teacher Annie Sullivan.

The Miracle Worker Besides that win for playwright William Gibson, the original production also took Tonys for lead actress Anne Bancroft as Sullivan and director Arthur Penn. Surprisingly Patty Duke was not even nominated for her extraordinary portrayal of the deaf and blind Keller. However, Duke did win the supporting actress Oscar two years later for the film version. And Bancroft became the fourth of an eventual eight performers to take home an Oscar for recreating their Tony-winning performance on film.

The other performers to win the Tony and then the Oscar for the same role are: Jose Ferrer for "Cyrano de Bergerac" (Tony in 1947, Oscar in 1950), Shirley Booth for "Come Back, Little Sheba" (Tony in 1950, Oscar in 1953), Yul Brynner for "The King and I" (featured Tony in 1952, lead Oscar in 1956), Rex Harrison for "My Fair Lady" (Tony in 1957, Oscar in 1964), Paul Scofield for "A Man for All Seasons" (Tony in 1962, Oscar in 1966), Jack Albertson for "The Subject Was Roses" (Tony in 1964, Oscar in 1968), and Joel Grey for "Cabaret" (Tony in 1966, Oscar in 1972). (Lila Kedrova did it in reverse with "Zorba the Greek" winning the Oscar in 1964 and the Tony for the musical in 1983.)

Bancroft did not attend the Oscars as she was performing in "Mother Courage and Her Children" on Broadway. Joan Crawford --snubbed that year for her comeback performance in "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?" -- accepted on her behalf. Among those Bancroft defeated was Crawford's on- and off-screen nemesis Bette Davis. The savvy Crawford milked this moment for all it was worth, and kept printers' ink flowing when she flew to Gotham to present the Oscar to Bancroft.

Patty Duke -- who bested Angela Lansbury for "The Manchurian Candidate" among others in the supporting race -- went on to play the part of the teacher in a 1979 TV movie with Melissa Gilbert as the student. Both were nominated for Emmys as lead actress in a limited series or special. Duke won a then-record third Emmy in this category after victories for "My Sweet Charlie" (1970) and "Captains and the Kings" (1977).

The 2003 Broadway bound revival of "The Miracle Worker" with Hilary Swank as Annie Sullivan shuttered after a three-week run in Charlotte, N.C. That closing opened the way for Swank to take on the role of Maggie in "Million Dollar Baby" which would win her a second lead actress Oscar.

Photo credit: Playhouse Theatre

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