Christian Borle has come a long way from his college library's conference room.
The Tony-winning actor has tread the boards on Broadway for more than 15 years, taking on a host of roles that include a Minstrel, a French Guard and Not Dead Fred in Spamalot; the studious law student Emmet in Legally Blonde; and the villainous pirate Black Stashe in Peter and the Starcatcher — earning him a Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Play. Adding even more breadth to his range, Borle was most recently seen in NBC's The Sound of Music Live! as the comedic Max Detweiler.
Borle's next stage outing, the Encores! production of Little Me, features him in six different roles. The Cy Coleman and Carolyn Leigh musical with a book by Neil Simon will begin performances Feb. 5 and continue through Feb. 9. Based on Patrick Dennis' novel "Little Me: The Intimate Memoirs of that Great Star of Stage, Screen and Television/Belle Poitrine," the musical follows Belle, a woman in search of wealth, culture and social position, and the numerous men she encounters on her way — all but one of whom will be portrayed by Borle.
Borle's awareness of his ability to transform into such a wide variety of roles began onstage in a college production of Cabaret, where he played several roles, including the head waiter and the gorilla featured in the song "If You Could See Her Through My Eyes." "That was kind of the first time I realized there was a niche for me in a bunch of different parts and to be a chameleon," Borle said of the experience. "And that's what actors like to do anyway — kind of disappear into things. But to be able to do it all in one show is a treat."
In Little Me Borle will portray a young college boy, an elderly lecher and a dying European king, as well as several other colorful characters. The production will include the original script (with a few cuts), which was re-tooled for its subsequent Broadway revivals — in 1982, with Mary Gordon Murray playing Belle, and Victor Garber and James Coco sharing the multiple male roles, and in 1998, featuring Faith Prince as Belle and Martin Short playing the numerous male parts.
The Encores! production, directed by John Rando, stars Rachel York as young Belle, Judy Kaye as older Belle and Tony Yazbeck as George Musgrove. It also features the original orchestrations and script.
While portraying numerous characters is nothing new to Borle, he said he did a good amount of "pre-pro" before starting rehearsals at City Center in order to "have a handle on the six guys."
"At the heart of it, they're about people you actually care about," he said of his characters. "For me, one of the challenges is to not make these six guys total caricatures. They have to be somewhat broad and distinct and funny. You should care about them, too. So we're trying to, on some level, keep it in the realm of somewhat truthful, with just a little bit of an edge to it."
That edge, according to Borle, is apparent thanks to the book: "The road map is so clear. The jokes are so clear on the page that you just have to kind of get out of the way of the whole thing."
Little Me marks a return to the stage for the singing actor, who recently played composer Tom Levitt on the Broadway-inspired NBC TV show "Smash." Commenting on his return to the stage, Borle said, "There is nothing like the rehearsal process. It's so nice to be back in that environment... I was pleasantly surprised by experience in the TV world. It's kind of the same. You get together and you collaborate, and everybody, if you're lucky, is pouring their heart and soul into it. And you become a family, just like you do in the theatre. It's just that it's technically quite a different operation."
Little Me premiered on Broadway in 1962, with Virginia Martin as Belle and Sid Caesar playing the various men in her life. The ten-time Tony nominated musical picked up one win — for Bob Fosse's choreography — before the London production, starring Bruce Forsyth and Eileen Gourlay, opened at the Cambridge Theatre in 1964.
"I try not to overthink things," Borle said of stepping into the fast-moving shoes of a role previously performed by Caesar and Short. "I don't want to steal anything from anybody. When I saw Martin Short do [Little Me], he blew me away. But Martin Short is Martin Short. And I would never do an impersonation of him doing an impersonation of all of these people."
Borle's appreciation of Short began long before Little Me came to Broadway; while attending high school, he served as the president of the Ed Grimley Fan Club, which included group viewings of "The Completely Mental Misadventures of Ed Grimley" in a conference room at the school library. A cardboard cutout of Grimley was also featured in the school fair's triangle toss.
Since the musical's 1962 premiere, the idea of fame — one of the dominant themes in Little Me — has changed greatly, in part due to the internet and social meda, which are two aspects of stardom that Borle said he chooses to "opt out" of.
"I think it's a tidal wave that, now, at this point, it's useless to resist," he said. "I think it's up to each person to decide for themselves how they want to engage in this culture that we're in right now. In that way, I've decided to opt out of social media, because I like my privacy."
After Little Me concludes its run at City Center, Borle will take on a significantly different role — just one — playing Pirelli in the New York Philharmonic presentation of Sweeney Todd.
"I can't believe that's happening," he said of performing in what has been his favorite musical since seventh grade. "I just can't believe it. To be able to sing that music is a great honor, and I think it's going to be fun."
And what's next for the self-proclaimed chameleon, who, in just two months, has gone from singing "The Lonely Goatherd" in The Sound of Music to "Boom Boom" at City Center, and will soon follow up with "The Contest" in Sweeney Todd?
"I love musicals," he said. "I always hope people will let me play around in that world. I'd love to work on some new stuff, too."