Charl Brown, 33, and Stark Sands, 34 (USC Class of 2001) can be found these days in Motown and Kinky Boots, respectively (Broadway Class of 2013). Twelve years ago they could be found co-starring on campus for the last time — Brown as Leading Player to Sands's Pippin — in the Stephen Schwartz–Roger O. Hirson musical that, like them, just went through that end-of-season adrenaline rush known as the Tonys.
Had they come up head-to-head in the same category, it might have been pushing it a bit, but they didn't. Sands made the leading man ranks, as benefits one who manufactures unconventional men's footwear, and Brown settled into a supporting slot as iconic Smokey Robinson, Motown's second-in-command (after the Almighty Berry Gordy).
The synchronized irony of it all was hard to overlook. It lent a certain surreal haze to their reality last month, and they still hadn't snapped out of it by the time they were enveloped by the annual glitz of the Drama League's star-clustered luncheon.
"When I walked into the ballroom today, the first person I saw was Stark," Brown said. "I thought, 'This is incredible, with our history, that we get to experience this whole thing together.' We work the same press lines, we attend the same awards ceremonies. People ask us about our friendship all the time, and it's fun to go down that memory lane and relive the big moments that we've been through together."
This isn't Sands' first time dealing with awards season blitz — his 2007 Broadway bow in Journey's End earned him a Featured Actor in a Play nomination — but he can attest it's more fun to make the trek with a friend. "There's a handful of people from my college days I keep up with and stay close to, and Charl is one of those people," he declared.
He looked no further when he needed a wedding singer two years ago. Brown obliged him by delivering Beyoncé's "Halo."
As Sands tells it, his whirlwind courtship of British journalist Gemma Clarke sounds like a screenplay. Alone in London for two days, he met her on the sidewalk, extended his stay five days just to hang out and spent the next year long-distance visiting. The part that sounds like a sad movie (in particular, 2011's poignant "Like Crazy," in which an Anglo-American couple is strangled by immigration red tape) occurred after she decided to move in with him in New York.
"Because she admitted she'd be living with her American boyfriend," Sands said, "she was denied a visa, and we had to fight the U.S. immigration system. Eventually we found our way through."
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