Tony best actor Christian Borle hooked by 'Starcatcher'
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In preparing his acceptance speech before Sunday's Tony Awards ceremony, Christian Borle realized he had much to say but not enough time to say it.
"In one of the early versions, I thanked a lot more people and had a lot more anecdotes in it," he said.
Instead, when his name was called as best featured actor in a play, the villain of "Peter and the Starcatcher" gave an eloquent speech that mentioned his family as well as his many teachers back in Pittsburgh.
"I can't single people out, for fear of leaving someone out," he said Monday. "Starting at the Falk School, St. Edmund's [Academy], Shady Side [Academy], CMU ... at every turn I had at least three, four, five incredible teachers that encouraged me."
Mr. Borle, who grew up in Fox Chapel, was one of the favorites to win the Tony, his first; he was previously nominated for the musical "Legally Blonde." Another Shady Side Academy alumnus, Brendan Griffin, shared in Tony triumph as an actor in the best play winner, "Clybourne Park."
Pittsburgh Public Theater will present "Clybourne Park" next spring.
Less than 18 hours after he was handed his trophy at the Beacon Theater in New York, Mr. Borle was still in a daze.
"You don't really process it," he said. "It all seems like a dream to me, to be honest."
What followed were rounds of media interviews and parties, including the official affair at the Plaza. The Tony was the ultimate accessory, but he had to guard it with his life.
"It is fantastically heavy, and it does spin," he said. And yet it is now out of his possession, sent off for engraving.
"When you're nominated, you get a letter beforehand where they tell you that the Tony they hand you is indeed going to be your Tony Award. 'Take it with you through the night, let people touch it, enjoy it, but we need it back today.' "
More than three years ago, Mr. Borle began workshopping the pirate character Black Stache, who would one day become Captain Hook in this re-imagined version of Peter Pan.
He stayed with the production as it evolved, leaving to do projects such as "Angels in America" with New York's Signature Theatre and, most visibly, NBC's "Smash," where he plays a Broadway composer. But he always came back.
He credited playwright Rick Ellis and directors Roger Rees and Alex Timbers with keeping him "hooked" through it all. "Peter and the Starcatcher" was nominated for nine Tonys, including best play.
"It was one of the reasons I pursued this at every iteration down the line. ... They are so smart, so generous."
"Peter and the Starcatcher" is a demanding, visually exciting ensemble showcase, executed with precision timing.
"You have no choice but to be a team player, because there is even safety on the line. You have to be 100 percent focused all the time," Mr. Borle said. "It takes absolute dedication, and it's a great honor to do this show."
Yet as the tale unfolds, Black Stache emerges in outrageous ways.
What began as "this lost, sad, angry and really dangerous man, at times," became a darker force once the show moved to Broadway, he said. "It's only when he finds Peter as a hero that he turns into the kind of broader arch character that we know of as the template for Captain Hook."
Which is not to say Black Stache isn't maniacally funny, as in the scene where the future Hook loses his hand. No spoilers here, but what follows is an extended facial reaction on Mr. Borle's part that "is different every time out."
"I think of it as an aria," he said. "It's the part of the show that requires the most maintenance [to keep it from spinning out of control]."
Besides trying a few Red Barn Players shows in Franklin, Beaver County, Mr. Borle wasn't on stage much before college. "I was a late bloomer. I wasn't a child performer. Really, I kind of couldn't get arrested in Pittsburgh," he added, laughing.
He auditioned for the ensemble of Civic Light Opera and didn't make the cut. But his time in the spotlight would eventually arrive.
While studying drama at Carnegie Mellon University, the 38-year-old actor had a professor who told the class that becoming adept at the craft takes time and experience.
"She said: 'You're not going to graduate from school and be a fully formed actor,' " he said. " 'It takes 20 years.' And, it's been 20 years."
He paused, considering the gravity of the concept. Immediately, the newly minted Tony winner added, "And I still feel like I'm just mugging my ass off."
Although the Broadway show must go on, Mr. Borle will buckle his last swash in a few weeks. "Smash" begins shooting its second season in mid-July.
"It's been really, really great to juggle these two fantastic things. It's been an amazing year, and the nice part is, I do feel I've enjoyed every second of it."
First Published June 12, 2012 12:00 am