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'Law & Order: SVU' vows to cast unemployed stage actors

Tony Award nominee Alex Brightman (Broadway's "School of

Tony Award nominee Alex Brightman (Broadway's "School of Rock — The Musical," "Beetlejuice") is among the local stage actors who will appear on Thursday's episode of "Law & Order: SVU." Credit: Getty Images for NYCWFF / Mike Pont

With New York theaters shuttered since the COVID-19 pandemic first spiked in March, the showrunner of NBC's "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" is vowing to put unemployed stage actors to work on that long-running police procedural.

"We are trying to hire every Broadway actor we can while we and they wait for the curtains to rise again," tweeted Warren Leight, one of the executive producers, earlier this month. "And yes," he added in a second tweet, "by Broadway, we of course also mean off, and off-off, and off-off-off."

"We know how hard the community has been hit here," Leight, who turns 64 on Sunday, told the entertainment-industry website Deadline.com afterward. "The goal is to get as many jobs to as many theater actors as we possibly can."

While the NBC show, starring Mariska Hargitay and Ice-T as NYPD detectives, has regularly included New York theater actors in its 22-season run, as have other shows in the "Law & Order" franchise, Leight says the series will now prioritize more such casting. Many Los Angeles-based actors "aren't going to be willing to get on a plane and quarantine right now," he said. "We realized early on that we'll have to cast locally much more."

An additional benefit, said Leight, himself a Tony Award-winning playwright (1999's "Side Man"), is that theater actors "hit their marks and can do it over and over" quickly, a boon when COVID-19 health and safety protocols can require minimizing time on set and contact between actors.

Already, two-time Tony nominee Eva Noblezada (2017's "Miss Saigon," 2019's "Hadestown") and two-time nominee Alex Brightman (2016's "School of Rock — The Musical," 2019's "Beetlejuice") are guest-starring in Thursday's episode. Others set for this season, according to Deadline, include "Doubt" Tony winner Adriane Lenox; Elizabeth Marvel (2019's "King Lear"); and Jelani Alladin (2018's "Frozen"), among others.

Several actors tweeted approval. "Love this!" wrote Harold Perrineau (TV's "Lost," Broadway's "The Cherry Orchard"). "Thank you," commented Donna Lynne Champlin (TV's "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend," Broadway's "Billy Elliot: The Musical" and "Sweeney Todd"). Others pitched themselves, seeking work.

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