Friday, November 6, 2015

Friday Dance Party: Mad About The Borle

As this site lurches uncertainly back to life, we pay tribute to my favorite Broadway Go-To Guy. He first attracted national attention more than a decade ago, in this fun commercial below.  Who IS this guy??

I confess I don't remember ever seeing this commercial, but it is fondly remembered by most fans of Christian Borle (and I am one of those).

Broadway musicals do not usually appeal
to the MTV audience, even one based on a
tweenie movie, so the network's broadcast
of Legally Blonde still confuses me.
The first time I ever saw Borle's work was probably in the stage version of Legally Blonde, though I didn't know it at the time. In 2007, MTV made the unusual decision to air the original Broadway production in its entirety. I did my best with it, but could not get through the thing, mostly due to the unending commercial breaks inserted. So I know I saw Borle, who played love interest Emmett (and who earned a Tony nomination for his work), but frankly, I don't remember him.
As Bert in Mary Poppins
Borle held his own among comic
experts Hank Azaria, Tim Curry,
and David Hyde Pierce in Spamalot.
Legally Blonde was Borle's first Tony nod, but not his first Broadway appearance. He had replaced actors in Thoroughly Modern Millie and Mary Poppins, and originated several roles in Spamalot (including everyone's favorite Not Dead Fred). I had heard Christian Borle's name tossed around theatrical circles for quite a while before I actually saw the guy, and it wasn't onstage at all. 
On stage he's often flamboyantly
theatrical, but in Smash, Borle gave
a nuanced and unassuming
He gained national attention with his leading role in Smash, NBC's noble attempt to musicalize episodic television. The show ran two seasons, and Borle's character was a major presence throughout. (Smash had its own Dance Party a while back, go here.)

Christian's costar in the current Something Rotten!, Heidi Blickenstaff, hosted a video blog for a while, an entertaining look at the backstage shenanigans. Borle was regularly seen sitting in his dressing room clutching a book (he spends more time offstage than just about anyone else in his cast). "Book Nook" became appointment viewing among us Borlites.
During this period, Borle was also heavily involved in Peter and the Starcatcher, an unusual little play-with-music which was an impressive Off-Broadway hit.  
The show transferred uptown and Borle went with it, opening the Broadway production during his hiatus from Smash. He won the Tony for his efforts, an award I can attest he deserved, as I saw his energetic performance.
As Black Stache in Peter and the Starcatcher. The show isn't exactly a prequel, but is rather an imagining of how the Peter Pan myth may have begun. Finding Neverland, a giant show currently on Broadway, is also Pan-adjacent, though it covers the supposed inspiration for the writing of the original story. What the hell is it about Peter Pan that attracts people, over and over again?
Smash did not survive its second season, but that did not stop our hero, who has maintained a television presence in recurring roles on The Good Wife and Masters of Sex.
I'm a big fan of The Good Wife, so I'm delighted when Christian shows up to play one of Alicia's many nemeses.
Impressively, Borle has given satisfying performances in both of the live productions of Broadway musicals with which NBC has had such ratings success during the past two holiday seasons. His stage cred came in handy as Max in The Sound of Music, opposite stage vet Laura Benanti (I wrote about that production here). He was happily back when NBC's Peter Pan took flight (or rather, floundered), playing Mr. Darling and Smee.
Arms and the Man. Borle began working out during his Smash days, when bedroom scenes revealed a slender physique. Boy has that changed. His appearance as a pirate in Peter Pan Live ignited major interest in his huge arms. Some viewers suspected they were faked for the show, but no, it's really him. These days, Christian's biceps even have their own twitter account (which our hero claims he does not run).
Though neither of these live shows received much critical praise, they were ratings winners, and one would think Christian might be a good luck charm worth keeping (as far as I can tell, he is the only performer to appear in both The Sound of Music and Peter Pan live productions).
Before the big Borle Bicep Bulge, our hero starred
in a prestigious revival of Angels in America,
opposite Zachary Quinto. This guy does not need
song and dance to excel.
It was announced a while back that this year's event would be The Music Man, which is a show I dislike but one which might have given Borle the MUCH deserved leading role he has earned. I'd love to see how he handled conman Harold Hill. Soon after that announcement was made, it was rescinded. Instead, The Wiz will be easing on down the road, live, this Christmas. If the producers really want to insure ratings success, they should consider putting Borle in blackface to play one of Dorothy's cohorts. EVERYBODY would watch THAT, if only to complain about racism in Hollywood!

I have a hunch Borle is a bit of a hound
around the ladies, but why not? He was
married to his college sweetheart until
their individual careers really took off.
Yes, that's Sutton Foster, the former
Mrs. Borle. He's been linked to others
of his costars as well; who could resist
that wide, toothy grin?
Well, we finally come to our Dance Party, which features Christian singing one of his songs from his current hit, Something Rotten! (Look for my thoughts on seeing this show soon, as I attempt to get back in the habit of updating these pages. I saw the show months ago, early in its preview period.) 
The principal cast of Something Rotten!
This show is populated with many of Broadway's current creme, but when the show opened last spring, Borle was the face most recognizable to a network audience (due to his Smashing appearances), so there are several clips out there of Christian performing on the various morning/talk shows.
Instead, please enjoy this little video which the team produced themselves, to showcase the show's only Tony winner (did I mention Borle won his second Tony with this performance as Shakespeare?). It's a fun little number capitalizing on Christian Borle's comic timing. And of course, his arms.

As I watched this music video below, it occurred to me: isn't there a Popeye musical out there, just waiting to be put on the stage? Arms And The Man, indeed.