"Smash" Star Christian Borle Hooks Up With an Infamous Role in Peter and the Starcatcher

By Harry Haun
29 May 2012

Borle in Spamalot.
Photo by Joan Marcus

Borle, who played the rag-doll martyr "Not Dead Fred" in Spamalot and got that show off to a flying stop with a needless lecture on Finland, learned comedy "at the altar of Mike Nichols [who directed Spamalot]. I remember an interview Natalie Portman did about him once and thinking, 'C'mon. I know he's great, but she's talking about him as if he's some kind of a god.' Then, being in that room with him, what you come to realize is that he's some kind of a god. His wisdom, his economy with words, his taste — impeccable.

"Being on the frontlines with [Spamalot stars] David Hyde Pierce and Hank Azaria taught me how to relax in comedy, wait for the laugh and say the line. And the people in this cast — from Kevin Del Aguila to Greg Hildreth to Teddy Bergman to David Rossmer, across the board — are some of the funniest people I've ever met. Part of this has been to try to get each other to laugh in the rehearsal room and to keep it fresh. Even when we're not doing the play, we just kinda stand in the wings and have each other in stitches."

On stage, in true swashbuckling tradition, it's all for one and one for all. "There is something intrinsic about the way the show is built in that we all need to be there for each other — for safety's sake and for rhythm's sake. There's kinda no choice. You have just got to be 100 percent all the time, so I think not having the options of marking [time] or of not being completely focused and present makes it easier to just do it. If you're not there or you blank on something, somebody could really get hurt.

"What's lovely about it is that, once it starts, there's no time to think and no time to dread the most difficult, physical thing that's coming up. You just, all of a sudden, find yourself hoisting somebody above your head, and it's over in the blink of an eye. Then ramping up for the mermaid song — 'The Act Two Aria' is what I call it — again, you're supporting — holding an umbrella, holding a rope, and then, all of a sudden, I'm sweating buckets and standing on top of a trunk screaming my face off. It's fun."

These days, Borle is between Broadway and the TV series "Smash." Buckets of sweat notwithstanding, he's on R&R from writing music to Debra Messing's words in NBC's Broadway-backdrop series. Initially, there was a big "Smash" clash and it looked as if Peter and the Starcatcher would sail to the Main Stem without him, but a sudden scheduling change saved the day and spared the Hook.

(This feature appears in the June 2012 issue of Playbill magazine.)

Read Playbill.com's lively recap of all 15 episodes of "Smash," starting with the season finale.

Christian Borle speaks to Playbill Video about his 2012 Tony Award nomination as Best Featured Actor in a Play: