A history of 'Uncle Vanya' on Broadway

Steve Carell stars in the latest Broadway revival of Anton Chekhov's classic family drama — learn about the play's storied, star-studded past productions.

Sarah Rebell
Sarah Rebell

Playwright Anton Chekhov first created Uncle Vanya, 125 years ago but iconic roles like Vanya and Sonya still move audiences today.

The show explores the visit of an aging professor and his wife to their family’s crumbling rural estate. Tensions rise as the characters experience unrequited love, provincial ennui, and — as in all of Chekov's tragicomedies — question the purpose of their existence.

The latest Broadway revival of Uncle Vanya, starring Steve Carell in the title role, emphasizes this contemporary resonance. Pulitzer Prize-nominated translator Heidi Schreck and Tony Award-nominated director Lila Neugebauer set their Uncle Vanya in the 21st century.

Alongside Carell in this revival is a cast of first-rate stage and screen actors including Anika Noni Rose, Alfred Molina, and 2024 Tony Award nominee William Jackson Harper. Over the years, many Hollywood actors have starred in Uncle Vanya on Broadway and beyond, and each production brought something new to the century-old classic.

Learn more about the history of Uncle Vanya on Broadway, and then see the current revival at Lincoln Center's Vivian Beaumont Theater through June 16.

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Uncle Vanya characters

Before discovering the history of the play and its stars, get to know the characters that have stood the test of time. The main Uncle Vanya characters include:

  • Vanya: A man who gave up his inheritance for his sister (Sonya’s mother) and gave up his dreams to help Sonya manage her estate. He is in love with Yelena.
  • Sonya: She inherited the estate from her deceased mother and works hard to keep it afloat, supporting her father’s luxurious lifestyle in the city. She harbors a secret, unrequited crush on the doctor Astrov. In Schreck’s adaptation, she is called Sonia.
  • Astrov: The local doctor and a frequent visitor to the estate, he is also in love with Yelena. His other passion is preserving the local forests.
  • Professor Serebryakov: An elderly professor who uses the income from the estate to fund his urban lifestyle. He is Sonya’s father, Yelena’s husband, and Vanya’s former brother-in-law. In Schreck’s adaptation, he is called Alexander.
  • Yelena: Serebryakov’s much younger second wife who has feelings for Astrov. In Schreck’s adaptation, she is called Elena.
  • Maria: Vanya’s mother and Sonya’s grandmother.
  • Marina: The family nanny who acts as a housekeeper now that Sonya is grown.
  • Waffles: A family friend and Sonya’s godfather.

Uncle Vanya Broadway productions

Discover a timeline of major productions of Uncle Vanya and fun facts about each below. Depending upon how you count the productions, the current revival is either the 8th, 9th, 10th, or 11th version of Uncle Vanya on Broadway. No matter how you count it, the 24-year stretch between the last revival and the 2024 one is one of the longest since the show first debuted on Broadway over a century ago.

1899 world premiere

First published in 1897, Uncle Vanya premiered two years later at the Moscow Art Theater, directed by Konstantin Stanislavski (whose Stanislavski method of acting is still used today by actors like Daniel Day Lewis, Ellen Burstyn, and Dustin Hoffman).

Uncle Vanya is based on an earlier, unsuccessful 1889 play of Chekhov's called The Wood Demon, which may have been inspired by his own vacations to northeastern Ukraine when he was a young man.

In reconceiving the play as Uncle Vanya, Chekhov cut the size of the cast in half and changed a suicide to a failed killing, among other changes.

1923 Broadway premiere

The first known Broadway production of Uncle Vanya took place in November 1923 at the Jolson's 59th Street Theatre (later known as the New Century Theatre, which has since closed). The play was co-produced by the Moscow Art Theater and performed on alternating nights with other Russian classics, including Dostoyevsky’s Brothers Karamazoff and Chekov’s The Cherry Orchard.

The production closed in late 1923 but had a return engagement in January 1924 at the same theatre, and then again in May 1924 — making the premiere production actually three productions, depending how you look at it.

1929 Broadway revival

Five years after the original Moscow Art Theater production, a new version of Uncle Vanya ran at the Morosco Theatre. Produced by Irma Kraft, the play starred Morris Carnovsky (one of the founders of The Group Theater, a prominent theatre company in the '30s) in the title role, Franchet Tone as Astrov, and Rose Keane as Sonya. This production only played two performances.

1930 Broadway revivals

The following spring, Jed Harris produced and directed a new version of Uncle Vanya at the Cort Theatre (now the James Earl Jones Theatre). With a revised script by Rose Caylor and set designed by legendary designer Jo Mielziner, this Vanya initially ran for 96 performances and returned later that year for another 16 performances at the Booth Theatre in fall 1930.

Lillian Gish played Yelena in this production. Four decades later, she returned to the world of Uncle Vanya in a 1970s revival. She played Marina in what would be one of her final Broadway roles.

1946 Broadway revival

London’s Old Vic Theatre brought a production to the New Century Theatre (where Uncle Vanya had played in the 1920s) for a brief run from May to June of 1946. Celebrated actor and director Laurence Olivier (the namesake of the prestigious Olivier Awards for theatre in London) starred as Astrov.

He would later reprise the role in a 1962 production at England's Chichester Festival Theatre, which he also directed. This production, which the New Yorker described as “probably the best 'Vanya' in English we shall ever see," was filmed by BHE films and preserved for posterity.

1973 Broadway revival

Mike Nichols received a Tony Award nomination for directing this revival of Uncle Vanya, which ran for two months at the Circle in the Square Theatre. Along with Albert Todd, Nichols also translated the play.

Nichols wasn’t the only company member to receive a Tony nod; George C. Scott and Nicol Williamson were both nominated for Best Actor for their portrayals of Astrov and Vanya, respectively.

1995 Broadway revival

Two decades later, another production of Uncle Vanya opened at Circle in the Square, this time with a translation by Jean-Claude van Itallie. This production was the only Broadway Uncle Vanya since the introduction of the Tony Awards to not receive any nominations.

2000 Broadway revival

This starry revival at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre (now the Lena Horne Theatre) featured Derek Jacobi as Vanya, Laura Linney as Sonya, Amy Ryan as Yelena, Roger Rees as Astrov, and Frank Langella as the Professor.

Ryan received a Tony nomination for her performance, as did set designer Tony Walton. The production was directed by Michael Mayer and produced by Roundabout Theatre Company.

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2024 Broadway revival

Heidi Schreck, a Pulitzer Prize finalist for What the Constitution Means to Me who is fluent in Chekhov's native Russian, translated and adapted the play at the urging of her friend, collaborator, and former neighbor Lila Neugebauer, who directs the show. Uncle Vanya is Neugebauer’s third major directing credit this season; she also staged The Ally at The Public Theater and earned a Tony Award nomination for directing Appropriate on Broadway.

This celebrity-filled production of Uncle Vanya stars Steve Carrell as Vanya, Allison Pill as Sonia, Alfred Molina as Alexander, Anika Noni Rose as Elena, William Jackson Harper as Astrov, Jayne Houdyshell as Maria, Mia Katigbak as Marina, and Jonathan Hadary as Waffles.

Harper’s performance earned him his first Best Actor Tony Award nomination. If he wins, Harper will be the first performer to win a Tony for appearing in Uncle Vanya.

Other Uncle Vanya adaptations

Uncle Vanya has appeared numerous times in London's West End. A one-man adaptation, Vanya starring Fleabag's Andrew Scott, won the 2024 Olivier Award for Best Revival. Other noteworthy West End productions of the play include the 1992 revival at the National Theatre, which starred Ian McKellen in the title role and Janet McTeer as Yelena, and a 2003 revival, which won the Best Revival Olivier Award.

Uncle Vanya has also been adapted for the screen. In addition to Olivier’s 1963 film, other highlights include a 1994 adaptation by David Mamet, called Vanya on 42nd Street (with Wallace Shawn in the title role). The play also makes a prominent appearance in the 2021 film Drive My Car, which is about a theater director (played by Hidetoshi Nishijima) who is working on a production of Uncle Vanya.

Get Uncle Vanya tickets now.

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Photo credit: Uncle Vanya on Broadway at the Vivian Beaumont Theater. (Photos by Marc J. Franklin)

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