Billy Hartung, who plays bad-boy Chuck in Footloose, is returning to a place he called home just a year ago: Hartung was a part of the ensemble of Side Show, the short-lived cult favorite at the Richard Rodgers Theatre, where Footloose now has a foothold.
Are there ghosts for him?
"When I walk in every day, I have a tremendous sense of pride and excitement to come back into the space," says Hartung. "But I don't think there are any ghosts. When I walk up those stairs...it feels like home."
It helps, too, he says, that the doorman and a couple of the house tech people remember him. Feels like family.
"But the shows couldn't be more different," says Hartung. "Side Show had a black stage, Footloose is electric blue." Hartung not only gets to play in one of Broadway's more audience-friendly houses, where the slope of the orchestra seats creates good sightlines and a kind of intimacy, but he's done new musicals in his two visits to the Rodgers.
For Hartung, 27, the best part of his career is the chance to create roles, despite the fact he just played Young Buddy last summer in the Paper Mill Playhouse revival of Follies..
"To be involved in someone's dream like [this], to have them hire me and trust me to take what they've had in their minds for seven years or five years or ten years and be part of the exploration is what I love," says Hartung. "When you watch the creators' hands hit the keyboard and play a song, I am sitting in heaven."
Hartung's big number in the Dean Pitchford show, based in 1984 movie, is "The Girl Gets Around," written by Pitchford and Sammy Hagar, and made popular by Hagar.
"I was pretty aware of the film," says Hartung. "The interesting thing about the song is, [in the film] it's on the radio in a truck while they're racing down the street in a game of chicken. You can't even really tell it's a song, unless you're the guy who wants to sing it."
He says, "It's a perfect song. It's probably the one song most appropriate for stadium rock. To have it in a [character-oriented] musical blows my mind because its perfect for Chuck: It sets up his point of view, his rhythm, his dynamics. You know what to expect from this guy. It maybe played for 10 seconds in the film; it's now a real theatre song. The arrangements are true to the style."
What you expect of Chuck, who wears blue jeans and rides of noisy motorcycle, is enough menace to threaten heroine Ariel and challenge hero Ren.
"Sometimes in acting classes, they ask what kind of music would be playing if your character were walking around. I think it's that electric guitar..." says Hartung.
His real-life teenage romances in Pittsburgh, PA., lacked turbulence, he says. Hartung married his high school sweetheart, Sharon, who works in the fashion industry.