"It's one of my mother's favorite books," 25-year-old, baby-faced newcomer Alexander Sharp explained. Years ago, "She said, 'You need to read this' and gave it to me."
He refers to "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time," the 2003 mystery novel by British novelist Mark Haddon that was adapted for the stage by Haddon's longtime friend, playwright Simon Stephens. The work received critical acclaim in the West End and hits Broadway's Ethel Barrymore this month, officially bowing Oct. 5.
Sharp, a Brit himself — born in London, raised in Devon — was homeschooled by his mother for most his life, he explained from a restaurant in Hell's Kitchen the day before Curious Incident's first rehearsal.
"I read [the book] when I was maybe 15," Sharp continued. "It's an incredible book… It spoke to me then, and it speaks to me, obviously, now." Now, Sharp, a fresh Juilliard grad — equipped with "an unbelievable toolset and strength and endurance," he said — returns to age 15 as the boy at the heart of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Christopher, who must get to the bottom of the mysterious death of his neighbor's dog, which was speared by a garden fork in the middle of the night.
Although the parallels between Alexander and Christopher are plentiful ("He has great perseverance. We're similar in that way.") and he's now read the novel over 50 times, he confessed, "I'm so nervous, man!" He's headlining in his Main Stem debut.
"Broadway debut after Juilliard. It's incredible, isn't it?" said director Marianne Elliott. "He was still actually at school when we cast him."
Between high school and college, Sharp traveled, hitchhiked through South America and ended up renovating houses in the States.
"I was painting a friend's house in Connecticut," he remembered, "and asked him what the best drama school in America was, and he said, 'Yale, Juilliard…' I [thought], 'Juilliard? I think I've heard of that before'… I applied. That was the only school I applied to."
At his audition for the 2014 class of Juilliard, which graduated 18 pupils from its Drama Division this May, Sharp met Mark Junek, a then-student and audition monitor who gave him pre-audition advice, became his friend and would eventually change his life.
"In February," Sharp recalled, "he called me, left me a voicemail and said, 'Call me back.' He was like, 'I'm a reader in a room, where people are coming and auditioning for this part… I think you'd be perfect for it.' I didn't have any representation, manager, agent, nothing."
At the time of his audition, Sharp was directing a stage adaptation of "A Clockwork Orange" at Juilliard. On a ten-minute break from rehearsal, he got the call.
"I ran outside, I had a voicemail, and I initially thought, because I don't have representation, [casting director] Daniel Swee was being really nice [and] was calling me to let me know personally, 'You did great, but not this time.'" Instead, Sharp explained, "He said, 'Yes, I'm going to offer you this great, whopping, big role.' It didn't sink in. I think I cried later in the day."
The role is Christopher John Francis Boone, a socially off, mathematical savant who is written as though he fits somewhere on the autism spectrum (although it is never determined in the novel). The medium is Broadway. "To be on Broadway — it's sort of otherworldly. I don't really know because I have never done it, so I have no idea what it's going to be like, but I'm super excited. Broadway seems like this foreign land of dreams."
As for Christopher, "He thinks with a sense of wonder," explained playwright Simon Stephens. "He talks with a sense of wonder, and I think Christopher has a real sense of wonder at the world. And, I think if you can bring that to that character, and if you can bring that to this adaptation, that's the thing that audiences get to… We've found somebody very, very special in Alex, and I think audiences are going to fall in love with him as much as they fall in love with Christopher."
And yes, Sharp's mother plans to fly in from South England for opening night.
(This feature appears in the September 2014 issue of Playbill magazine. Playbill.com staff writer Michael Gioia's work appears in the news, feature and video sections of Playbill.com as well as in the pages of Playbill magazine. Follow him on Twitter at @PlaybillMichael.)