Why Rachel McAdams's movie roles make her a theatre star

The Oscar-nominated actress makes her Broadway debut after starring in multiple fan-favorite movies of the 2000s, many of which now have stage adaptations.

Gillian Russo
Gillian Russo

Academy Award nominee Rachel McAdams hasn't even made her Broadway debut yet, but she's already present in the theatre world wherever you look. Stage adaptations of McAdams's most beloved films keep popping up in New York and even abroad — and she arguably played a part in getting them there, as her performances continue to win over new fans.

Thus, it's fitting that this spring, McAdams is finally taking the stage for the first time. Beginning April 2, she stars in Manhattan Theatre Club's production of the motherhood drama Mary Jane, giving fans their first chance to see her perform up close. In celebration of McAdams's Broadway debut, look back at the screen projects that have already made her bonafide theatre royalty.

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The Notebook

Perhaps one of McAdams's best-known roles is Allie in this swoon-worthy, sob-worthy 2004 romance film. In 2004, Nicholas Sparks's bestselling novel got the Hollywood treatment, with McAdams starring opposite Ryan Gosling as young lovers who find their way back to each other across decades.

Now, the show is a Broadway musical, adapted by Ingrid Michaelson and Bekah Brunstetter. McAdams may not be directly involved, but her impact on the story remains. Jordan Tyson, one of three actresses who plays Allie in the musical, told New York Theatre Guide, "Rachel McAdams in that role was the reason I [pursued acting]."

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Mean Girls

McAdams had a fetch year in 2004. Not only did she star in The Notebook, but she played high school queen bee Regina George in Mean Girls, a movie that got the stage treatment in 2018. When the Mean Girls musical got its own screen adaptation in 2024, McAdams united with Reneé Rapp, who played Regina in that film and on Broadway, on Saturday Night Live.

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The Time Traveler's Wife

McAdams's film career isn't just represented in New York theatre, but across the pond as well. In 2023, a musical adaptation of the 2009 movie The Time Traveler's Wife premiered in London, running there through February. On screen, McAdams originated the role of Clare, a woman married to a man who uncontrollably time travels and must cope with his many absences from her life.

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Unlike the above films, Spotlight was never adapted for the stage. But in her Oscar-nominated turn as journalist Sacha Pfeiffer, a reporter on the Boston Globe's Spotlight team who broke the news of widespread sexual abuse by Catholic priests, McAdams was surrounded by multiple famous faces from the theatre world.

Brian d'Arcy James, a four-time Tony Award nominee now in Days of Wine and Roses on Broadway, and Mark Ruffalo, who boasts five New York theatre credits atop his film career, played McAdams's fellow journalists — with Liev Schreiber, now on Broadway in Doubt, as their editor. Off-Broadway regular Michael Cyril Creighton and Len Cariou, the originator of the title role in Sweeney Todd, played supporting roles.

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Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga

McAdams proved her range once more in 2020, when she starred in her first movie musical. Delighting Eurovision fans everywhere in a year when the contest was canceled, the film starred McAdams and Will Ferrell as bandmates, best friends, and will-they-won't-they lovers. McAdams and Swedish pop singer My Marianne combined their voices to create her character's musical numbers, including the Oscar-nominated song "Husavik."

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Mary Jane

After starring in numerous theatre-adjacent projects, it was only a matter of time before McAdams finally took the stage for real. Through June 2, she plays the title role of Mary Jane, a single mother whose child has a chronic illness. Amy Herzog's poignant play centers on the diverse group of women in whom Mary Jane finds support and sisterhood. From comedy to romance to drama, screen to stage, McAdams continues to prove she can do it all.

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Discover more spring preview content on New York Theatre Guide and learn about all the Broadway shows this season.

Top image credit: Rachel McAdams. (Photo courtesy of production)

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