Unpack Danny DeVito’s stage roles ahead of ‘I Need That’ on Broadway

Though best known for screen roles in projects like Taxi and Matilda, DeVito has a long history on the New York theatre scene, dating back to the '60s.

Joe Dziemianowicz
Joe Dziemianowicz

Danny DeVito is a sitcom favorite. He's a Golden Globe and Emmy winner for playing a caustic cab dispatcher on Taxi, and his current TV alter ego is a shady businessman in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

But this fall, he’s returning to his roots: New York theatre, where he worked regularly in the ’60s and ’70s (doing Shakespeare, no less) before television and movies such as Terms of Endearment and The War of the Roses.

Recalling his early stage work, DeVito one said, “Sometimes, I’d get into a play where it wasn’t the lead, but it was encouraging. You need that little bump every once in a while.” His latest big lift: DeVito stars as a reclusive hoarder in the new Broadway play I Need That by Theresa Rebeck (Bernhardt/Hamlet).

Get to know more about DeVito’s theatre and stage-adjacent projects with our timeline below.

The Man With the Flower in His Mouth

In this 1969 trio of one-acts by absurdist playwright Luigi Pirandello, DeVito did double duty. He toggled between roles in The License and The Jar, but he waited in the wings during The Man With the Flower in His Mouth. In a 1981 run of the show, DeVito shouldered that third short work about a dying man.

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One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

In this 1971 Off-Broadway revival of Dale Wasserman’s adaptation of Ken Kesey’s novel set in a mental institution, DeVito played Anthony Martini, a patient bedeviled by hallucinations. DeVito reprised his role in the 1975 Oscar-winning film starring Jack Nicholson.

A Phantasmagoria Historia of D. Johann Fausten Magister, PhD, MD, DD, DL, Etc.

Faust was the focal point of this 1973 work drawn from plays by Goethe, Marlowe, and other writers. Besides DeVito, a notable player in the cast was Rhea Perlman, whom DeVito married in 1982.

The Merry Wives of Windsor

DeVito kept busy in this 1974 open-air production at the Delacorte Theater. He played the servant John Rugby in Shakespeare’s comedy about the romantic misadventures of Sir John Falstaff.

Where Do We Go From Here?

In this 1974 Public Theater production of John Ford Noonan’s drama about an ex-advertising executive, DeVito played a character in his orbit named Whimsey.

The Comedy of Errors

DeVito played Balthazar, whose calming effect helps avert a fellow merchant from scandal, in the Shakespeare comedy presented at the Delacorte Theater in 1975.

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The 1996 movie, of course, not the musical. DeVito co-produced, directed, and starred in this big-screen adaptation of the Roald Dahl classic about a mistreated 6-year-old genius. DeVito and Perlman played Matilda’s noxiously neglectful parents.

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The Sunshine Boys

Neil Simon’s comedy about a fictional vaudeville duo enticed DeVito back to the stage in 2012. He performed the play in London’s West End with Richard Griffiths, who died a year later. In 2013, DeVito reprised his role opposite Judd Hirsch in a Los Angeles run.

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The Price

In 2017, DeVito made his Broadway debut and earned a Tony Award nomination for his supporting role as an antiques dealer in this revival of Arthur Miller 1967 family drama. Mark Ruffalo, Jessica Hecht, and Tony Shalhoub also starred, but New York Theatre Guide’s review noted the production’s standout, calling The Price “The Danny DeVito Show.”

I Need That

In his latest stage venture, DeVito stars as Sam, a hoarder who has to clean up his act. That is, his home, by order of the government – or he’ll be out on his ear. What stays? What goes? His daughter, Lucy DeVito, and Ray Anthony Thomas co-star as his assistant Marie Kondos.

Originally published on

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