All the times Jessica Lange did theatre

The Academy Award winner returns on Broadway in Mother Play, a new show by Paula Vogel, eight years after winning a Tony Award for an American classic.

Joe Dziemianowicz
Joe Dziemianowicz

Jessica Lange burst onto the acting scene in a massive monkey's paw. Since her screen debut 47 years ago in King Kong, she’s held audiences in the palm of her hand and has the awards to prove it: a Tony, Oscar, Emmy, Golden Globe, and others.

Throughout the 1980s and ’90s, Lange lit up the big screen in movies like Tootsie and Blue Sky, both of which won her Oscars. More recently, she’s been a frequent presence in the TV anthology American Horror Story — and on stage.

Lange’s emotional transparency shines through on screen and on stage, whether she’s inhabiting a familiar role or creating a new one. In 1992, she made her Broadway debut in a revival of A Streetcar Named Desire, and she’s back on stage in the spring in the premiere of Paula Vogel's Mother Play.

Discover more about Lange’s remarkable roles on stage and in theatre-adjacent films below.

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Crimes of the Heart

Beth Henley’s 1981 Pulitzer Prize-winning and Tony-nominated comedy play about three sisters facing various dramas became a movie in 1986. Lange played the middle sister, Meg, a wannabe singer who hits the wrong notes with men.

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Julie, a daytime actress whose love life is a soap opera, is one of Lange’s most famous roles. While this 1982 comedy starring Dustin Hoffman wasn't a musical, it was adapted into one in 2019, with Lilli Cooper earning a Tony nomination for reimagining Lange’s Oscar-winning part.

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Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Lange purred and prowled as Tennessee Williams’s iconic Maggie the Cat in this 1984 TV movie version of the marital drama. Her Blue Sky co-star Tommy Lee Jones played Maggie’s husband – and reluctant bed partner – Brick.

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A Streetcar Named Desire

“I’ve always depended on the kindness of strangers.” Lange got to utter that indelible line as the vulnerable southern belle, Blanche DuBois, in Williams’s famous drama. She won a Theatre World Award for her stage debut. Alec Baldwin starred opposite her as Stanley Kowalski, the brutish architect of Blanche’s destruction.

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Playing the vengeful Tamora in this 2000 film adaptation of Shakespeare’s bloody Titus Andronicus, written and directed by Julie Taymor (The Lion King), Lange raged to the full extent of her fury – and then some.

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Big Fish

Lange played Sandra Bloom, the wife of a man who’s known for telling larger-than-life stories, in Tim Burton’s 2003 fantasy. Kate Baldwin got that part a decade later in the Broadway musical adaptation.

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The Glass Menagerie

Lange was back in Tennessee Williams territory in 2005, this time as the helicopter, er, hell-icopter, mother Amanda Wingfield. The revival co-starred Christian Slater as her son, Tom; Josh Lucas as a gentleman caller; and American Horror Story’s Sarah Paulson as Amanda's fragile-as-glass daughter, Laura. Paulson also returned to Broadway in the 2023-24 season in Appropriate.

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Grey Gardens

When theatre fans think of Big Edie and Little Edie Beale, idiosyncratic real-life relatives of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, they likely imagine the musical starring Christine Ebersole and Mary Louise Wilson. The show, based on a documentary film, ran on Broadway in 2006. Lange played Big Edie opposite Drew Barrymore as her daughter in the 2009 TV movie.

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Long Day’s Journey Into Night

Lange took the journey into night in Eugene O’Neill’s monumental drama twice. In 2000, she first played the morphine-addled matriarch Mary Tyrone in London’s West End. Lange reprised the role in a 2016 Broadway production and won a Tony Award for her vivid portrait. Gabriel Byrne played her husband, and Michael Shannon and John Gallagher Jr. were her sons.

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Mother Play

Pulitzer Prize winner Paula Vogel’s play is set in 1962, when the times, they were a’changing. Lange plays an exacting mom whose great expectations take a toll on her children, played by To Kill a Mockingbird Tony winner Celia Keenan-Bolger and The Big Bang Theory Emmy winner Jim Parsons. Performances begin April 3 at the Hayes Theater.

Originally published on

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